Writer’s Reflection Category Archive

Writing for the Ear

Today, Randy Brandt is guest-posting on Writing for the Ear and the magic of stories read aloud. You might have noticed that we have a similar last name, and…that would be because he’s my dad, and a pretty cool one at that. Currently, he’s a preacher, though he’s worked as a 3rd grade teacher and, in his own words, is a picture-book-wanna-be-author.

I hope you enjoy this post! I wish you could have heard him read it aloud.

Randy Brandt:

It was in high school drama and musical productions that I first tasted the opiate of audience reaction to the live performance of spoken word where as an actor I grew accustomed to inflection, rhythm, pacing, gesture, and pause. I felt a similar reward when reading to my toddling children at bedtime, or to 30 third grade students gathered in our story-telling corner, or with a church of congregants waiting for the impacting end of an illustrative tale.

There is a unique power in how stories are experienced when the narrator speaks aloud, employing control over the timing of pauses or a patient lingering through a string of descriptive adjectives. The bard can sing the description of gentle wind over a field, hurry with fevered pitch and breathless excitement through a tome’s climatic fight scene, add sassy character to biting dialogue, or whisper slowly the description of the antagonist’s last breath.

When I spent time over the minimalist use of words demanded in picture book authoring, I found myself obsessed with reading aloud, time and again, the prose that I imagined someday being illustrated, hoping against hope that my words would be read, not just silently by young readers to themselves, but out loud by teachers, parents, and children. Thus, I wrote in a way that my voice would be the reader’s voice, that my style in writing would reflect how the reader actually read and how the hearer would listen with heart, emotion, and imagination.

I’m convinced that most readers not only see the images and feel the emotions described in the novels they read, but they hear it all happening with inspired imaginations fueled by the writer’s honed skills.

The question I pose for you authors who have no voice, but only the printed word: How is it that through writing style and technique an author can bring the power of spoken voice to prose? Do you image your dialogue being spoken aloud someday, perhaps during a group discussion of your published work or better yet, on the screen?

Do you write for the reader’s ear?  Do you think of yourself as a story-teller who has no lips but her pen, no arms for gesticulating nor ability to slow the pace of speech except in how carefully crafted words appear on a page?

Or better yet…what techniques are in a writer’s arsenal to equip the author with comparable powers of story-telling control to which the ancient bard has always been privy?

I Was Not Born A Writer

I have heard it said, “I was a writer from the start,” but that was not me. I was not born knowing how to put words to my thoughts or how to take those words from my mouth and place them on the page. I was not born understanding the characters dancing in my head or the worlds that needed building. I was not born knowing how to cultivate a storyteller’s touch or with the drive to wade through the world of publishing.

I was not born with the knowledge of the Hero’s Journey or the necessity of a
Beginning

Middle

and End.

I was not born knowing how to bring a character to life, how to give them emotion, how to make a reader feel what my characters experience, or how to make them seem just as three-dimensional as a true-living-breathing person.

I was not born knowing how to understand my five senses and use words to describe them. I was not born knowing the dynamic simple sentence or how to string a complex sentence together. I did not know the difference between the word “red” and “amaranth”, “sad” and “doleful”, “smell” and “reek”, or “hug” and “cradle”. I was not born knowing there are words that carry power, that stick in a reader’s memory like tacky glue or molasses or silly putty or sweat.

I was not born knowing the importance of a comma, the necessity of a period, the gift of quotation marks, or the beauty of an em dash. Punctuation can carry as much power as a word. I was not born knowing that truth.

I was not born knowing that readers need to laugh and cry (often at the same time). Or that readers need to root for their characters. Or that readers need characters with flaws. Need characters full of flaws. Characters that have flaws and yet, they still rise. They rise and conquer. They conquer, despite those flaws. I was not born knowing that characters need to save themselves or save others or are saved because of their flaws.

I was not born knowing how to create rhythm or prose that speaks. I was not born knowing how to draft and edit or knowing the difference between pantsing and plotting. I was not born with thick skin.

I was not born a writer.

But.

But I was born a creature of industry. I was born with the ability to establish habits, particularly the habit of working hard and steadily. I was born with the desire to practice and read, practice and read, practice and read. I was born with an internal need to experience the world fully, to know the stories of fellow men, to understand the lives of the people who have come before me. I was born with the need to interact with others intimately and with the beautiful world around us—to make connections, to research and learn and learn and learn.

I was born with an imagination. I was born with a powerful brain. I was born with a subconscious that works overtime when I sleep and dream.

I was born with each of the tools needed to place the stories I brainstorm on paper.

I was born with the capacity to become.

Four years ago today, I was in a car accident that changed my life and set me on the path to write my first book, which led to the second, the third, the fourth, fifth, sixth and on.

I was not born a writer.

But it is what I am.

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming…

…for a rant!

Why are writers in such a rush to be published?  I know, I know, it’s the dream.  We all want to hold our lovelies in our hands, smell the pages, sign them for all our fans, give them as presents on Christmas, and of course, highjack our friends for long car rides and tell them to READ IT!  Yes, it’s the dream.

It is my dream too.  I want all those things sometimes so bad I think I could cry or throw up (yes, seriously). But I started walking down this road only six months ago and only wrote my first novel a year ago. My first book was horrible, terrible, but I learned a lot. My second was a middle grade book that I had a ball writing. My third was a full length YA. And now, I’ve begun another YA.

I can’t believe how I’ve improved with each book I’ve written!  The old adage is right, if you want to get better at writing, you have to write.  No excuses.  Just get it done.  Don’t stop at book one, write a second, third, fourth…

No, I’m not saying don’t query the first or second because I’m sure going to, once I feel they’re polished, but I’m also saying, what’s the rush?  You’re probably not starving because you haven’t sold any books.  That’s what other jobs are for.

The moral to my rant: don’t be in a rush, just write, perfect your craft, and make connections with other writers (yes, make friends, just like in kindergarden).  But the biggest thing you should focus on is to enjoy writing.  Love writing.  Be happy you can do this at all.  Every single second of it.  Fall in love with your characters.  Drown in the worlds you build.  Plan more ways to thwart your characters and figure out how to get them out of it.

So go! Write! And never, for a second, take for granted our ability to do what we love.

Too Many Questions?

Cale said this to me earlier today: Sometimes, you remind me of a small child. You ask too many open ended questions.

To my credit, we were at the pier watching fisherman bring in their catch of the day and watching the seals swim through the water, waiting for fish to accidentally fall overboard. I mean, there are a lot of open-ended questions to ask when you’re watching that.

But don’t you all think that it’s a requirement of a writer to ask all those questions?

I took a nap today and before I fell asleep I thought, What would happen if everybody was connected to someone else and could only die once that other person died. If you got sick or were injured you could survive because you were spiritually attached to someone else? Overpopulation of the world, that’s what would happen. But that’s not the point. The point is that we ask ourselves these weird questions, file them away, and write books answering them later.

And it’s totally okay! No one can say our questions are annoying because frankly, it’s just a consequence of our job.

Job Hazard Zone: too many questions.

My teachers in middle school were right after all, there are no such things as stupid questions, and even if there are, those stupid questions lead to really interesting answers, which lead to even more really interesting questions.

Moral of this post, it’s not possible to ask too many questions. Our curiosity drives our imaginations and surely that’s a good thing.

Because seriously, have you ever wondered if seals accidentally breath in water like people sometimes do when they’re swimming? Or why a Dogfish is called a Dogfish? I know I have!

#YAsaves

I assume all of you have seen the #YAsaves trend on Twitter, but if not, check it out.  I’ve read a few hauntingly powerful posts in reflection of the @wsj article and have been inspired to add my voice to the mix.

The most important thing I’ve noticed from all the tweets are the many people who have written that they wish they would have had access to the YA books that teenagers have today.  I was lucky to have grown up when YA books were becoming popular, though not as they are today.

Depite having a wide group of friends, several best friends, and always having something to do on weekends, I grew up a very lonely girl.  My close family saved me from expressing my sadness and loneliness in negative ways, but it wasn’t until the end of college that I finally understood that lonely was just a part of me.  Once I accepted that, it became okay and it no longer hurts me like it once did.

While I don’t have a story like many of those I have read, I still connect and understand that it was books that saved me.  I spent enormous amounts of time at the library, feeling the bindings of books, wanting to jump between their pages.  Concocting stories of my own is what carried me from day to day.  When I didn’t know how to express what I felt, books did.  This is why I write – I want to give that to another person who needs it.  In books, there is always a safe place to escape to when the real world doesn’t provide that.

YA isn’t too dark, it reflects reality and educates teenagers on aspects of life they need to know about.  More often than not, kids don’t become aware of issues like anorexia, cutting, suicide, and rape until it confronts them in real life.  This should not be the case.  Kids need a safe place they can learn about these things and know how to react when they happen in life.  I say there needs to be more YA and absolutely, never in any way, should there be censorship of the written word.

Thank you to everyone out there for helping put to words why I write and read, and why YAsaves.