|Courtesy of MorgueFile|
How can this fateful event help us to write better stories? Please allow me a moment to digress...
With the demise of IBM Selectrics and their manual predecessors, we must finally say goodbye to those days when our every ms was as finely worked as a medieval palimpsest. Do you remember that era? Our pages were weighted down by correction fluid, stained by coffee and smudged by erasers. (Grey ones for top sheets, pink ones for carbon copies.)
Fast forward to the present day. The typewriter is dead. So what? Its demise is not just a trivial footnote in history.
It marks a radical change in the way you and I think.
Up to the 20th century, writers had a tangible and direct relationship with their work. Everything came out of the tip of a pen. Writing was a sensual experience. Typesetters went blind trying to decipher the crabbed marginalia of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and the like. Authors wrote for the voice and often read their work aloud, to an audience private or public.
Until recent times, voice was paramount. A novelist ‘spoke’ to his or her reader.
|Courtesy of MorgueFile|
A century later, word processors further alienated authors from the Voice. All is now done by the eye. Cut and paste. Fonts, enhancements, layouts... The product is even more emphatically a visual one.
That’s why so many commercial novels today clank like the Woodman in The Wizard of Oz. They were written for the eye. And with it. The result is two-dimensional. To date, ebooks just perpetuate that visual experience.
What Kindle has gained, literature has lost.
Yet there’s a simple trick that authors can use to add grace to any story. (No doubt, many of us do this already but I’m sure a lot of first-timers don’t.)
Read your work aloud - to yourself.
Is it ugly in the wrong places? Does it stammer, halt or splutter? Smooth the cadence or drop in some transitional phrases.
Act out every role in your passages of dialogue. Use appropriate voices, hand and facial gestures. At once, you’ll hear snippets of speech that sound unnatural. And you’ll discover places that cry out for body language or reflective pauses.
How does it sound?
Make the sound too tick-tock smooth, of course, and the passage will be as soporific as Spenser’s Faerie Queene. But now you know how it sounds you can go back and vary the pace and texture.
How will you know it’s working? Watch your reader’s eyelids...
Clever Idea #1: dictate your draft into a voice recognition program. As you speak, give yourself permission to re-adjust the words so they sound right. The printed transcript will then include your revisions. Its cadence will be true to the spoken voice.
Clever Idea #2: Save the final text as a pdf and have Adobe Reader read it to you aloud. (Adobe Reader can do that, did you know?) If the robot voice stumbles over a word, perhaps the reader will too. It’s something to check.
Within a decade, doubtless we’ll have thought processors. We’ll just compose our story in our minds and think it to the reader (or the thinker). Technology will do the rest. And what a mess it will make of the job!
I predict a big growth market, circa 2020, in blood-red pencils.
Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at: Writers-Village.org/Academy-intro