Sometimes it can really help to mix up your regular routine and do something different. Right now, I’m recovering from eye surgery — every day, I’m getting better, but it’s going to take a while. Reading can be tiring, so my wonderful husband David took a quick trip to the library and loaded up with a big, juicy pile of audio books for me — everything from Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman to The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence. Right now, I’m listening to Dorchester Terrace, a Victorian-era mystery.
Listening to large swathes of books instead of reading them is a new experience for me, but there are many wonderful writers, Laura Hillenbrand among them, who believe that listening to books is a great way to hone their craft: to sharpen style and pacing. I can see why. Here are a few thoughts on how listening to strong writing can be fruitful:
It forces you to pay attention to the balance between dialogue and description: Sharp, brisk, witty, and revealing dialogue really stands out when a book is read, especially by a skilled actor or actress. Deft description drives a story forward instead of bogging it down.
It highlights character tics and differences: When one reader is playing all the roles in an audio book, it really accentuates the skill — or lack of it — a writer brings to characterizing the different players. Verbal tics, speech patterns, pacing all are accentuated. Characters can seem annoyingly long-winded or reliably witty. Hearing a book really drives home the need to write full-bodied characters even when you’re creating bit players.
Subplots are stressed: Listening to a few mysteries has really shown me the value of strong subplots, especially in giving secondary characters a chance to shine. A good subplot both advances the main story and provides a rewarding diversion from its tensions. Memo to myself: Need to work on this in my novel revision.
Sunsets matter: Listening to one lighthearted mystery, I was surprised at how long the author took to wrap the whole story up — maybe even too long. Still, it was clear that the author wanted readers to feel that every loose end was tied up and to have a clear idea of the fates of the characters once the last word was said. So many stories seem to drop off a cliff in this area: after the climax, there’s a race to the ending, leaving readers feeling stunned because it doesn’t given them time to process everything that’s happened. Memo to myself: Need to really craft my novel’s ending with care and flair.
Audio books — I’m now a fan! I look forward to finding some classics to hear and learn from Are any of you big audio fans? I’d love to hear about it. Write on!