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?

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4 thoughts about "Writing for the Ear"

  • Roselle Kaes says:

    Your father is very eloquent. It seems like he can transition between the spoken word and the written word seamlessly. I see where you got your writing talent from. 😉

  • Susan Buie says:

    Nice post, Randy. Having heard you speak, I certainly can imagine your words coming to life from the page!

  • This was great, Randy! I absolutely think about how my writing sounds, in particular my dialogue. Not every book is “literary” but I think all prose has a sort of lyrical quality to it–even hard boiled mystery novels! I think using words whose sounds mimic meaning (sometimes onomatopoeia, sometimes just words like “slip” or “squeeze”) are particularly effective. Juliana and I are also constantly working to use words that describe a sensation so viscerally that the reader can feel them happening. Finally, I often recommend that my editing clients read their writing out loud, so they can *hear* the parts that sound unnatural (i’s also a great way to figure out where you need punctuation). ‘

    thanks for the great post!

  • Jamie Ayres says:

    Beautiful post! I always fill in a character grid and stay true to their mannerisms, ticks, and speech . . . even if I’d rather write in flowery prose 🙂

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