Thursday, July 28, 2011

Telling a Story

Every now and again, I am fascinated with the concept of oral narratives--you know, stories told aloud, usually recited and often theatrical. Before there were printing presses, this manner of conveying a story was kind of it. Now, here we are in the 21st century, and almost the only time we tell a story aloud is when we're reading to small children. A great thing happens when we read for kids: we take on the personas of the characters in our facial expressions and voice inflections. We dramatize the events. Often, we read the storybook in question so many times, that it is committed to memory (perhaps a few of you moms out there are nodding--and grimacing?) It's something I come back to every now and then, because as writers, it seems we can get so wrapped up in our plot structure and the more technical aspects of constructing a narrative, that we forget the magic of, well, telling the story. All the action is in our noggin, while our faces are glued to a glaring computer screen, watching pixelated, Times New Roman font letters marching one after another. It's not that we're not into it, and it's not that the story isn't alive and compelling--it's just that there's something about bringing the human voice to a story that I think is transformative.

photo source
This telling/listening concept came back to me earlier this week, when I decided to listen to part of an audio recording of a book I was reading at the time. I rarely do audio books, but this time I thought I'd give it a whirl. I got into it. I got into the narrator's voice, reading with pathos and an altered inflection when he came to passages of dialogue. It reminded me of why I like it so much when my husband and I read a novel together aloud.  It helped me put my finger on why I love it when an author has what I like to call a "conversational" writing style, a sort of casual vernacular that makes you feel like you're listening to, rather than reading the story that is unfolding and developing a relationship with the author/narrator as much as you are with the individual characters. 

So... I think I'll start reading some of my work aloud every now and then,--even though it can be a scary thing to do when it's your own stuff-- so that I can get the feel for the telling aspect. And maybe I'll recruit a few listeners, too.


  1. Great thoughts, as per your usual :) I love listening to Terry Pratchett's Discworld audio books! They're hilarious, and very well written. You should try out Wee Free Men sometime ;)

  2. A great idea! I love reading aloud - everything. My work, novels, signs. It makes the words come alive in a way that reading them to yourself can never do - and it helps you understand the meaning in a different way. I think it'd be great for public schools to incorporate a "read aloud" class into all grade levels - they could read novels aloud and listen to books on tape in order to learn how to read properly. Kids don't read these days, which is sad and terrifying.

  3. Laura, you have a new fan. Your guest post on Jason's blog introduced me to your and I am enjoying it. You made some really good points.

    I also love reading out loud! I actually look forward to the day when I have someone to read aloud with like you and your husband. Oddly enough I was just thinking about that the other day.

    My dad used to read to my sister and I. We went through Little Women a couple chapters a night on the weekends that we were with him. I think that's what made me really fall in love with reading a book out loud with family.After all what better way to really share it?

  4. Anne, so glad to meet you! Welcome to my little place on the web! :)

    I too have very fond memories of reading aloud with my family, and I think that's also part of why I enjoy reading aloud with my hubs. I remember my mom reading Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan to us as a kids as we all sat around the kitchen table!

  5. I love to read aloud. I do have an interesting rhythm to the way I read which is unique in itself. If I'm not sure if what I am writing is unclear, I will read it aloud to myself to "hear" where I can edit.

    I've always wanted to write about reading aloud and this has inspired me. Thank you.

  6. Hi Cajoh! I think reading one's own work can be intimidating, because sometimes what sounded so great in our heads sounds not so great spoken out loud. But reading one's own work aloud is also revelatory and can help you grow as an author! Good luck in both writing and reading!

  7. Brilliant idea to read your work out loud! I plan to shamelessly steal it. :) Thanks for the reminder to get back to the story. You've inspired me to pay more attention to the theatrics rather than the mechanics. So insightful. Visiting you from TRDC today.

  8. Hi Melissa! Thanks for dropping by from RDC! I'm glad this post resonated with you!



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