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!
My oldest friend is blind. She introduced to talking books, said braille is boring! It is like listening to a play!
Yes, I’m really enjoying listening to stories — it’s lots of fun!