I have been absent from The Blood-Red Pencil for several months. Just thought I'd point that out in case you hadn't noticed (smile). I was laid low - really low - with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome the end of January, and it has just gotten to the point where I can do more than recline and listen to audio books. No reading, no writing, no television, no driving; and for several weeks nothing more than hobbling from the bed to the bathroom to the couch at my daughter's house. One of my sons joked that Ramsay Hunt must have been a CIA interrogator in a past life.
I believe it.
While being incapacitated, I did a lot of thinking about how other authors deal with health issues that throw great challenges at them. A blind writer who continually loses tools no amount of technology can replace. A friend who slogged through her last book hampered by the sludge of a mind drowning in personal problems. Another friend who continued to write during her losing battle with cancer. The writer who has such severe back problems she can only sit at her computer for a couple of hours a day.
I am lucky.
I also did not intend for this post to be just about my unwanted visitor. I wanted to write about some interesting things I noted while listening to audio books. Most of us know that reading our work aloud helps us catch awkward wordage, repetitions, and other bits that weaken our work. Patricia Stoltey offered some great tips for what to listen for in her post here back in 2009 - Self-Editing One Step at a Time.
What I didn't realize until recently was how much we can learn from listening to audio books. The ones I listened to ranged from mysteries by Robert B. Parker, Lee Child, and Louise Penny. I also listened to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Comparing the last two to some by Parker, I noticed that the dialogue was handled so much better by Stieg Larsson. All those dialogue attributives that Parker uses were hardly ever used by Larsson. Instead, he used actions to designate the speaker.
Parker has always been one of my favorite authors, and while reading his books the "he said" "she said" attributives will fade into the background as I focus on the witty dialogue that he did so well. Fading didn't happen with the audio book. In fact, the "saids" became so annoying I couldn't ignore them, and I made a mental note to take a lesson from Stieg Larsson.
From Louise Penny I learned the art of the hook at the end of a scene or chapter. In The Long Way Home she ended one chapter with a question that wasn't answered until two or three chapters later. Very early in the story she introduced an inscription on a wooden bench but didn't let the reader know what that inscription was until three chapters later. Both were minor things, but things that kept me listening until the reveal. So we don't always have to have something monumental as a chapter hook. The little things work quite well.
Do you read your work aloud? Listen to audio books? What have your learned from that? Please share in the comments.
Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.