Continuing the theme of the ‘Poet’ post, I’ve been thinking not only of the importance of making sure each and every word is vital to the piece of writing as a whole, but also of the importance of listening.
First, we listen to the rhythm of the words. This is important, and most writers know to read their work out loud and listen to how the sentences flow, how the dialog sounds, and so forth. The ear hears what the eyes sometimes miss. If, in reading out loud, certain words are skipped over, or a sentence comes out verbally different from how it’s written, it’s probably because the way we read it sounds more natural.
Second, we as writers need to listen to our characters. This isn’t as common, but is just as important. In an early piece years ago, I had a character actually say to another character, ‘I’m so bored with all this.’ This bit of dialog showed up mid way through the story, in the infamous ‘sagging middle’. The editor I was working with made a very kind notation in the margin that sometimes our characters tell us when something is wrong. How right she was. I rewrote, and made sure that character didn’t get bored again.
A friend of mine, recently published, has an interesting tool for when her story sags or stalls. She sits down at the dining room table with her characters and talks to them. Asks them their opinions on the story, and so on. She then jumps up, runs to another chair, becomes the character, and answers the writer. In this way she found out that the character she had pegged as the murderer, wasn’t, and an elderly female character really wanted to be the murderer and had excellent reasons for that desire. My friend laughs, sheepishly, when she talks about this, and hopes no one ever sees or hears her. But she has found an even more intimate way to interact with her story than just listening to the characters.
Honestly, I’m not sure I’m that uninhibited. After all, when I read my writing out loud, I whisper.
But at least I’m listening.