Thursday, September 24, 2009

Read Your Stories Out Loud

I think that too often, writers just don’t trust their instincts when it comes to their stories. When I speak of writing I often talk about using your gut instinct. If something doesn’t sound right, then fix it. I’m bringing this one up today to focus mostly on the voice and style of your writing. Along with finding the right characters and the right plot, you still have to find a way to find your own voice and one that works well with the story.


There are many times that I reject a story because it is either too forced or too flat. In both of these cases, as I read the story, I can see what it was that allowed the story past their critique partners. It was full of a lot of great small paragraphs or sentences that, when read on their own sound great. The problem is that when you combine it with the rest of the story, it simply falls apart. Let me break down each of these for you.


FORCED WRITING – I see this one a lot with people who are writing single title and see their writing as really fitting a literary fiction market. The easiest way to describe this style of writing is to relate it to modern day poetry. As many of you know, I love poetry. As a literature major, I loved the Romantic Movement in particular. Part of the reason for this, is the shift to writing for the common person. Prior to the Romantic movement, the writing was very forced and promoted intellectualism, with the belief that if you didn’t understand it, tough luck. I see modern poetry in much of the same way. Writers using metaphors and similes with connections that only the supposed intellectual would understand.


Writing doesn’t have to be complicated. But lively. It doesn’t have to be deep or intellectual, but functional and accurate. You don’t need to refer to the color of the hills in the sunset as “Super Tuscan Chianti in color dripping with the trailing strands of an Apollo like lighting kissing the cliffs.” First of all, huh? Secondly, just describe the hills. Use the senses, take us there but don’t go over the top.


FLAT WRITING – In this case, I see writing that have more of a staccato feel to it. The writer is trying so hard to make sure that details are in place about the character or the setting and misses the fact that it simply sounds terrible. For example. “Bob walked into his office. As usual it was hot. He walked to his desk and sat down. The work to be done would be long and hard. Still it had to be done.” Again, bear with me on the quality of the writing but I think you get the idea. I this case, the writer needs to take some time to consider blending sentences. Create sentences that might be a bit more complex. Begin with a phrase instead of a clause, combine sentences.


For many writers, they have the tools necessary to have a great story. I can see in their writing they have attended great sessions or have received great comments about their writing. The problem is simple though. Applying those ideas for the sake of applying the ideas will not work. You have to still listen to the writing and see if, in the end, it makes sense. Trust your hearing.


Best of luck with your writing!


Scott C. Eagan




  1. I think that it is important to get many peoples opinion on things. For instance, your mother might say,
    ''that was the best story I have ever heard, but your creativity comes from me of course.'' I have learned that that is what my mom mostly says. Though if I were to give the same piece of work to an agent, there would be so much red ink on my paper it would look like it was bleeding red ink. I also think that believability is more important than grammar in most cases. If i were to say,
    ''can you please take the dog out for a walk, Sally?'' I would sound like a robot. If I were so to say,
    ''Hey, take the dog out at 5:00 sharp, OK?'' That would be something I would actually say, and it would be extra specific.

  2. I really like reading my work out loud... especially the dialogue. My hands and face will move along with the text and I think, "Yeah, that's what my character would do with their hands too." I can then add the appropriate gestures and movement to my dialogue.
    One area I struggle with is knowing how much detail to put into describing a scene. I don't enjoy books that bog me down with two full pages on what the house looks like - just give me a feel and let me imagine the rest.
    I sometimes worry that my work skips over the scenery and the reader suddenly has my characters on a blank canvas. I'm all about what the characters are doing and saying and sometimes forget to really paint a picture for the reader.
    I know drawing on the senses is a good way to go, but are there any rules for how much description you should go into?

  3. I've seen both of these during critiques. I think it's important to not look at the surface issue b but at what might be causing the writing to be forced or flat.

    For the forced writing, one writer was writing her book based on an idea, not a story. The writing--particularly the dialogue--ended up being forced because none of the characters had anything to do! Events were happening to them, but there wasn't a reason for them to happen.

    For the flat writing, one writer wanted to describe the scene exactly as the reader would see it--he was afraid they might visualize it differently. So he described everything in inscruciating detail.

    Reading aloud might have revealed that it didn't feel right, but it wouldn't have necessarily identified why.

    Linda Adams