Hearing the Story
Last weekend I had the opportunity to listen to Leslie Budewitz do a terrific reading of one of her stories—“The End of the Line” from the December 2006 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
Her dramatic reading highlighted for me how well the narrative voice served the needs of the story. The narrative was confident, active, and melodic without drawing attention to itself. I was never pulled out of the story by an awkward turn of phrase or unduly repeated word. The narrative voice of the story was not the character’s voice, but it reflected the inner workings of the character’s mind.
Hearing the story reminded me that one of the pleasures of reading is the performative aspect. Even while reading alone, I still hear the story as I read, and that audible dimension is a large part of what I find so satisfying in a beautiful passage of writing—and frustrating when the language is flat or clumsy or when the writer has tried too hard to affect an unnatural style.
Every writer should read his or her work aloud—perhaps first alone, but also to someone else when the work is more polished. And every writer should listen to his/her own writing. When you listen to your own writing, what do you hear?
We talk often about how important it is for writers to read widely. I would say that listening is just as crucial a part of the writing process. Listen to other writers as you read, listen to the world—and listen to yourself.