Saturday, April 24, 2010

What do you hear?

I've been driving a lot lately. The school I work at is nearly 20 miles away- and then I've been providing homebound instruction after that. More driving!

Thank goodness for books on MP3 player. (Your local library might have a few Playaways. Check. Them. Out.)

But I digress.

You know how you're always told to read your manuscript aloud when editing? Well, listening to other books has been eye-opening as well. Here's what has stood out to me:

Passive verbs are boring. Really. A bunch of passive verbs* sounds boring. The language is vanilla, but it often goes hand in hand with similarly constructed sentences. They all have "he/she/they - is/was/were" pattern. It's mind-numbing to listen to sentence after sentence like that. After a while, I'd end up fixing the sentences.

Aloud. To an empty car: "'The water sparkled.' Okay? Not 'The water was sparkling.'"

Aren't I glad no one was watching me.

Don't spend too much time describing your character's internal state. In one story, the author would occasionally give a physical description that showed what the character felt. And then he'd tell us what the character felt. And tell us again. Of course, this much-described emotion occurred during tense parts of the novel. So instead of finding out what happened next, I had to listen through several more sentences about the character's inner state.

I confess that such mistakes led to excessive eye rolling, an occasional pound on the steering wheel, and loud pleas to the author to just tell me what happened next, already.

Repeated words. I don't always notice if I read the same word in a paragraph.** But I sure notice when I hear it again and again. This also applies if only one word is used in a specific situation. Someone might always be referred to as foreboding, or mysterious, for instance. Time for a thesaurus, folks. If I know the word the author is going to use before I hear it, that word is waaaaaaayyy overused.

I've loved listening to books while I drive. If you're curious, I never stopped listening because of the above mistakes. I think it was partially because the plots were interesting, and partly because I was a captive audience.

None of the mistakes are new to me (or you, I imagine). However, it's one thing to tell or be told about those mistakes. It's different when you experience them. I don't want anyone who reads my story to have a similar reaction.

I'd love to know whether you read your manuscripts aloud and if that helps you. What do you notice? And if you do listen to books, are there any aspects of the writing that rub you the wrong way?

* any form of "to be": is, are, was, were, etc.

** My fellow Slushies would point out that I don't notice if I write the same word repeatedly.


TerryLynnJohnson said...

ooh, such a good post. All great reminders! When I go for long drives, I love to listen to a book as well. I'm all set for my trip to the SCBWI conference in Lansing Michigan on Saturday. It's a very long drive so I have Pride and Prejudice which I haven't read in so long it will feel like a new book, and The Kite Runner which I haven't read.

I do the edit thing in my mind too. When you spend so much time trying to perfect your own, it sort of jumps out at you when you hear it.

I notice also, a lot depends on the narrator. I listened to one book that was well-written, but the female narrator trying to do a man's voice was so bad it took me out of the story repeatedly.

Sarah said...

Such a great point about the narrator, Terry! I haven't listened to any bad ones yet, but I have wondered if I have liked a fair-to-middling book more because of good narration.

I know another thing I noticed was that I had less tolerance for graphic scenes when I listened to them. I was listening to one book that wasn't at all gratuitous, but there was violence and ugliness in it. Normally, I'd skim those parts if I was reading. But I couldn't while listening, and I didn't want to fast forward in case I missed a plot point.

It meant though, that for a while afterwards, I was trying NOT to think of what so and so did to those horses, etc.

Tess said...

this is timely because I spent the wee hours of morning/night going through my WIP and chopping out those overused words. I think we all have our own lists .. and I don't even SEE those words. I'm always amazed how many times I can write 'just' on a page.


thank heavens for the 'find/delete' option on Word!

Sarah said...

I always repeat words, Tess. I try not to, but that's a mistake I consistently make. I noticed it again last night as I was rereading some earlier tapes.

Donna Gambale said...

I listen to audiobooks M-F in my hourlong commute to and from work. (Love for my local library!) But I ALWAYS notice errors -- especially overwriting or pacing issues or passive writing or superfluous words -- when I listen, and I frequently auto-edit in my mind. I think it's because you're forced to hear every word at a slower pace, so words and passages that are normally "invisible" or that I'd unconsciously skim over while reading are super obvious.

The current book I'm listening to has way too many "he said"s and "she said"s (in two-person conversation, where it's obvious who's saying what, also where there are action clues) -- and I guarantee if I'd been reading it, I wouldn't have noticed!

Sarah said...

Donna, I noticed dialog tags in one story as well. It was hard for me to tell whether it was the writing or the narration, though. Perhaps the narrator did such a good job with the characters' voices that the tags seemed superfluous. Or perhaps it was really and truly overwritten.

It made me want to find the book and see how the passages would read. : )