Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Writing Out Loud

by Sarah Sullivan

Even writing rookies know there are two time-honored methods for improving one’s prose. First, read a lot. Read everything. Slow down and read like a writer, paying attention to words and rhythms, plots and pace. Second, read your work aloud. Awkward syntax, subject-verb agreement errors and ponderous punctuation jump off the page when narration breathes life into the written word. 
HeadphonesThese are the things I have been pondering lately while listening to audio books. Listening is different from reading, of course, and I wouldn’t consider it a substitute, rather a useful companion. Granted it has it’s drawbacks as a writing tool. It’s hard to rewind just enough to catch a graceful phrase and, as far as I know, there is nothing akin to highlighting so that you can easily return to a particularly good paragraph or idea. 

On the other hand, audio books offer things that reading alone cannot. Hearing a book read aloud by a capable reader adds a level of texture and nuance that sometimes escapes the eye. Listening to rousing dialogue and rich description often carves a deeper impression in my memory than words alone. Being a stickler for correct grammar has its place, but it can have a stifling effect as well. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction or ending a sentence with a preposition just looks wrong on paper but sometimes sounds exactly right within the context of a story.  

Audio books have been in limited supply in public libraries since the 1930s, but today with a vast  array of audio devices from cell phones to mp3 players, the ability to listen whenever and wherever has revolutionized the way the world devours books. Purchasing an iPod a few years back transformed my relationship with exercise, house cleaning and long weekly drives. Now I always have two books at hand, one on tape and one on paper. I don’t know that I definitively prefer one over the other, it depends on so many factors. I do know that I am grateful for having multiple ways to enjoy the books I love. 

Do you read books, listen to books or both? 

3 comments:

RichardK said...

I read and listen. My favorite to listen to has been the Harry Potter series. Jim Davis provides a colorful reading of the books, changing voices for all of its many characters. It made me frown at the movies when I saw them.

abbiescorner said...

I'm visually impaired. As a kid, I read a lot of books in print, using my desktop magnifier, or in Braille. As an adult, I prefer having books read to me either by a recorded human voice or by text to speech technology.

Sarah Sullivan said...

Abbie, I am so grateful that they have audio books for that reason. My mom has a close friend and voracious reader who can now listen instead of read since she has lost her eyesight. I would be so sad not to have books in my life.

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