Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Selected Shorts as writing teacher

So you're a writer. That means you listen to NPR's Selected Shorts, right? And even if your station doesn't carry it, you know you can listen to the last five broadcasts here, right?

As I was reminded last Saturday evening, listening to Jane Levy read Aimee Bender's "Americca," there's perhaps no better way to improve your own writing than to listen to great actors reading great stories. That's because so much of literary fiction is getting the voice right. In many ways, the story is the voice that tells it. The voice creates and embodies the world of your story. And hearing the words, read with a trained actor's emotion, pacing, and enunciation, lets you take that voice into your own head.

Once it's in your head, you can then compare the voice to the one you "hear" when you're writing your own story. Maybe you can take on some of its pacing, borrow some of its interjections, emulate its balance of high and low diction. This is not to say that you copy the voice, but that you develop a more acute ear for the voice of your writing. You become more able to hear places in it where you can slow down or spice up--or notice when the voice doesn't yet sound authentic to the story. In other words, this kind of listening expands your range.

That was my experience with hearing Bender's story, anyway. Among other improvements, it inspired me to add a very satisfying "Duh!" to my story of a teenager facing the end of the world.

So listen to Selected Shorts, by all means. And don't forget to attend (and apply for) LA's New Short Fiction Series if you're on the West Coast.

No comments: