Hearing What You Can’t Read

woman listeningI am always fascinated by our five senses—touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing. I love the warmth of my husband’s hand when he clasps mine, the fragrant scent of a rose caught up on the morning breeze, or the tart pucker of a Granny Smith apple.

As writers, we know that adding the senses into our books makes the world our characters live in more real to the reader. But that’s not where I’m going with this post. My question to you is, when was the last time you listened to a book? I don’t mean just for pleasure, but to get into the depth of the story by using more than your eyes.

I have a Kindle that offers a “text to speech” option, which I’ve found to be available on many books. (I believe this is up to the author and/or publisher if they offer this choice and I’m sure it’s available on other readers as well.) It has a computer generated voice, which for me is fine, but you can go through this exercise with an audio book as well.

The trick is to listen to the words, but not become caught up in the story. It’s amazing what you can hear.

Rhythm: Did you know words and sentences have rhythm? When you listen to a story you can hear it. A good writer will create a steady beat with their words to slow the pace of the story. Or, speed it up to raise the tension as needed.

Choice of words: I’m a big proponent of not using the same word over and over again. I’m not advocating pulling out a thesaurus and running the gamut of possible choices, but just having an acute awareness of word choices. It makes the work more appealing. Fresh. You can “hear” the repeated words more than “read” them.

Story world: Has the author “painted” the world the character is in vividly enough that when you close your eyes while listening to a scene you can almost imagine yourself right in the middle? This aspect is hard to do when you need your eyes to read!

Emotions: Much like the story world, can you picture the characters’ actions? Feel their pain? Or laugh with them? This follows the line of showing instead of telling. When you listen to a book, you can “see” their reaction, like a movie screen playing on the backside of your eyelids.

I go through this exercise with many of my favorite authors. I take the time to learn from their writing style by listening to it. Then try to apply the concepts to my own writing.

So what do I do then? I always listen to what I’ve written. I email the Word doc to Amazon and it goes right to my Kindle. Then I go through the same exercise. Have I set the proper rhythm for the scene? Do I have words repeating that should be changed? Have I created a memorable scene mixed with real-life emotions?

Try it some time. You might be surprised what you hear that your eyes would have never seen.

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2 thoughts on “Hearing What You Can’t Read

  1. As an editor, I often read sentences aloud. Missing words become obvious in their absence this way, and as you pointed out, hearing the rhythm of the writing can often point out repetitive phrasing that is easily changed. I hope more authors will take your suggestion to listen to their manuscripts—it’s a great tool for improving their own writing.

  2. My primary perceptual style is kinesthetic, so if the author does not attend to the “feel” of the story, they easily lose me. I think pacing is one aspect of writing authors neglect way too often. I’ve read action scenes that felt completely in slow motion because the sentences were too long. I like to feel the texture of the fabrics the characters are wearing or the breeze in their hair. These are the kinds of things the draw me into the story as if I were THERE, rather than listen to something someone is telling me from a distance.

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