#FixYourNovel #3: Reading, Listening, or Watching a Novel?

Personal experience tells me it is a rare novel that will hold my attention well enough to be listened to instead of being read in printed form. I came to that conclusion as I wrote my September 2, 2019 blog post. In case you missed it, I wrote about two books I read in August and the audio book I stopped listening to at the halfway point. Here’s a link to that post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/02/3-5-of-the-5-5-books-i-read-in-august-2019/.

Since then, I’ve had several good experiences with audible books. I enjoyed listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer and The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross in September (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/07/thrillers-and-a-dark-novel-i-read-last-month/) and The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali this month.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, second to the quality of the writing itself, the verbal delivery of the audio book professional reader is of utmost importance. If I start to listen to a book but find the voice of the reader to be irritating or the volume of the reader’s voice is all over the place, I can’t continue to listen. I’m hearing-impaired, so I appreciate a steady volume on TV, the radio, music, and audio books.

We all learn in different ways, and I think my own non-scientific experiment in reading vs. listening demonstrates that fact. Taking that train of thought another step tells me that the same is surely true for children and how they learn. For children who have trouble reading, what if their textbooks could be available in audio? It seems to me this is worth a try.

Today’s blog post is the third in a series of posts I’ve written or plan to write about specific steps a novelist should take in the process of taking a manuscript on the journey from rough draft to publication.

Here are the links to the earlier blog posts in my #FixYourNovel series:

https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/15/fixyournovel-2-scene-outline/

https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/

What’s the “listenability” of this novel?

In case you’re wondering, yes, “listenability” is a real word. I thought I’d coined a new word, but then I found it in the dictionary. What I mean by “listenability” is this:  Does this book give the same depth of reading experience in audio form as it does in printed format?

With what I recently learned about the difference in reading a book and listening to a book, I need to look at the hook and scene and chapter beginnings in the novel I’m writing to see if they work well for the book listener. This prompted me to do a little research.

Writing advice from Jules Horn

I first brought up this issue in my May 13, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/13/how-listening-to-a-book-and-reading-a-book-differ/. In that blog post I referenced a piece Jules Horn wrote about attunement. Ms. Horn is an expert on method writing. Her website is https://www.method-writing.com/.

She read my May 13 blog post and took time to respond to my invitation for my blog readers to give me feedback on the opening line of my novel manuscript. I was thrilled to hear from her, as she graciously gave me specific advice about the sentence I’d written.

Ms. Horn recommended that, with audio in mind, I consider breaking up the sentence. She pointed out that breaking up the sentence into two or more sentences would help the reader to “see” each part of it. To refresh your memory, here’s the way I had written the opening of my manuscript as referenced in my May 13, 2019 blog post:

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

Ms. Horn told me that it would be easier for the reader to “see” each part of that sentence if I broke it down as if in camera shots. She also gave me a link to another post on her website to reinforce this recommendation: https://www.method-writing.com/camera-shots-advanced-fiction-technique/. She even suggested I try performing the opening of my manuscript. (Watch out, Hollywood, here I come!)

Research statistics

Sandra Beckwith’s August 21, 2019 blog post, “5 Way to Make Your Book Relevant to the Media” on the Build Book Buzz website (https://buildbookbuzz.com/5-ways-to-make-your-book-relevant-to-the-media/) included a link to an April 24, 2019 press release by Michele Cobb, Executive Director of Audio Publishers Association.

That press release reported that a 2019 survey conducted by Audio Publishers Association and The Infinite Dial Survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that 50% of Americans 12 years old or older have listened to an audiobook.

This growing trend is partially due to the advances in technology which have enabled publishers to distribute books in numerous formats. We’ve gone from the founding of the company Books on Tape in 1975 to people in 2019 being able to listen to books wirelessly on various electronic devices. (That probably sounds like a long time to you, but those 44 years have flown by for me. I graduated from college in 1975.)

Chad R. Allen’s writing advice

In an email named “My Top Piece of Writing Advice” on August 7, 2019, Chad R. Allen stated that his top piece of advice for writing is to “be concrete.” The email focused on a third way to look at a novel’s manuscript:  “Is it filmable? If a piece of writing is filmable, you can be sure it’s concrete.”

Mr. Allen is a writer, editor, speaker, and writing coach. He compared types of writing to a pyramid. Abstract writing (writing that “doesn’t show or engage the imagination”) is at the top. He wrote, “The bottom of the pyramid is concrete writing. It shows or illustrates. It does engage the imagination; it helps me to see (or hear or smell or taste or touch) something.”

My favorite of the points Mr. Allen made in his email are the following:

“The best communicators (I think this is probably true of speakers and writers) push as much of their content to the bottom of the pyramid as possible.”

“But more often than not the way to engage readers and hold their interest is to invite them into a scene.”

“Your job as a writer is to create an experience the reader doesn’t want to quit. Often the best way to do that is with concrete writing.”

Mr. Allen gives the following examples of concrete writing:  stories, metaphors, illustrations, dialogue, images, and sensory writing (writing that engages the five senses.)

That brings us back to Mr. Allen’s statement, “Is it filmable? If a piece of writing is filmable, you can be sure it’s concrete.”

I don’t want to steal all Mr. Allen’s thunder, but he made numerous good points in his email that I want to hold onto.

He related an example from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in which she wrote about enjoying a story someone told her. When she repeated the story to her friends, they found it boring. She later realized that the difference was that she was telling the story from the outside. Her friend had told her the story from the inside out.

Mr. Allen wrote in his email, “In other words, get into the narrative. Write it from the inside so that others can experience it with you. Don’t just convey information. Get into it and invite readers to get into it with you.”

Chad Allen offered incredible advice in his August 7, 2019 email to me, including the following:  “Do a story/image audit of a given chapter. Note the places where you go on for a while without a story or image or sound, and try to find ways to add them in. Even better: replace the non-narrative material with narrative material.

“If you’re writing history, instead of recounting facts, try imagining a scene and bringing us into it. David McCullough and Jeff Shaara have made a career of this.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is there a way to unpack this principle with a story or metaphor or illustration?’ A metaphor or image can do a lot of work for you.

“As you shape your content to be more and more concrete, you’ll be creating an experience that readers relish.”  

As I continue to evaluate every scene in my manuscript for The Doubloon, I think about how each one would come across on the written page and how it would sound if in an audio recording.

Mr. Allen’s website is https://www.chadrallen.com/.

What about a podcast?

Here’s another possibility: podcast your blog or your book. I haven’t ventured into the world of podcasting, but here’s an interesting and encouraging article presented by Nina Amir and written by Jay Artale about using a podcast as a way to market your book or get your blog out to people who prefer audio content to the written word: https://howtoblogabook.com/free-podcast-share-book-blog-content/. There is much to consider, but Ms. Artale makes it sound like it’s not as difficult as I thought. There are free software programs to get you started. It’s something for bloggers to consider.

Since my last blog post

Last week I had the good fortune of listening to a virtual summit for authors. It was hosted by Tara R. Alemany of Emerald Lake Books (https://emeraldlakebooks.com/) and Mark Gerber of Emerald Lake Books. It was free! All I had to do was sign in on my computer, listen, and take notes. Each weekday there were four sessions on a wide range of topics of interest to writers.

In addition, on Tuesday, I listened to a free webinar hosted by Author Accelerator (https://www.authoraccelerator.com/.) It highlighted OneStopForWriters.com’s “Character Development Tool.” (A subscription is required in order to access OneStopForWriters.com’s resources.)

Many of the features of the “Character Development Tool” duplicate some of the processes I’ve already gone through on the historical novel I’m writing, but I can see it could potentially help me make sure my protagonist has an arc. Look for more on that in my blog post about Characterization, tentatively scheduled for November 11, 2019.

After five consecutive days of listening to and watching the virtual summit and Tuesday’s webinar, I thought my brain might explode. That didn’t happen until Saturday, when my computer refused to let me download photographs from my hard drive to my blog.

A blogger should always have a “Plan B,” and that’s where I had to go this weekend. Today’s blog post was partially written and planned for a few weeks from now. I pulled it out and prepared it for today. As I write this, I’m unable to insert photo from my hard drive into my WordPress.com blog post. I’ve read that a blog should have at least one image, but this one will not. It’s not from my lack of trying.

The reason I had to go with “Plan B” is that today’s scheduled blog post was “Great Smoky Mountains, Revisited – Part 1,” and it was going to include numerous photographs. I hope to use it next Monday, if I can get the bugs worked out of my computer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Would you rather listen to or read a book? Would you rather listen to a podcast of a blog or read the blog?

Janet

How Listening to a Book and Reading a Book Differ

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Until I read Jules Horne’s guest post on Jane Friedman’s March 25, 2019 blog,https://www.janefriedman.com/writing-for-audio-understanding-attunement/ ­­­­­ , I had not considered how a listener of an audio book approaches a book as opposed to how a reader of the printed word approaches a book.

Jules Horne teaches method writing. She has even written a book about writing books for the audio audience:  Writing for Audiobooks:  Audio-first for Flow and Impact. I haven’t read it but maybe I should. If you’re interested in finding out more about Ms. Horne and her books, her website is https://www.method-writing.com/. Most of her work appears to pertain more to nonfiction than to fiction writing, but her guest post on Jane Friedman’s website gave me some things to consider as I write fiction.

I’m fairly new to listening to audio books. It’s a matter of personal preference, and it stems from how I learn things. I’m a visual learner, as a rule. A few years ago, having to listen to a book being read was torture for me. I felt like someone was talking “at” me and they wouldn’t shut up. It got on my last nerve. This became an issue because my sister is my traveling companion. She loves audio books and I hated them. That’s not a good combination on a vacation.

Over the past six or eight months I’ve made an attitude adjustment. I’ve listened to several books and enjoyed the experience for the most part. I am hearing impaired, so it is helpful to me for there to be few erratic changes in volume. That goes for people talking to me, the decibel levels on the TV, and very much so if I’m listening to an audio book.

All that being said, that’s not what today’s blog post is about. It’s about something called attunement. The above-referenced blog post by Jules Horne brought two important things to my attention as I learn the fine points of writing:

(1)          If the hook of your story is in the first several words of your book, the audio book listener might miss it. It takes a few words for a book listener to attune their ears to the sound of the reader’s voice – the volume, the pitch, the accents, and the cadence. A writer doesn’t want the book listener to miss the hook; and

(2)          The same thing applies to the transition into the next scene and the next chapter. The listener, more than the printed word reader, needs a few words of transition to ease into a new scene or point-of-view.

A comparison Ms. Horne makes is that of someone verbally giving us the news. Words like, “meanwhile” or “in other news” alert the listener to a switching of gears, a change in the story. Someone listening to a novel needs similar cues that give their brains a moment to prepare to hear something new.  

The current opening line in the manuscript for the Southern historical novel I’m writing, The Doubloon, is

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

After reading Jules Horne’s thoughts about writing for audio, I need to rethink that sentence as well as the opening sentences for each of my chapters and scenes. There are a multitude of things a writer has to keep in mind when editing the first (otherwise known as the “rough”) draft. I plan to address some of them in my blog post next Monday.

Since my last blog post

I let my rough draft of The Doubloon rest for several days, and then I started working on the second draft. I changed the timing of an event mentioned on the first page, and that meant adjusting references to that event throughout the rest of the book. 

Getting this book published is going to be a long process, but please stay tuned.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth and Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I’m listening to The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women compiled by NPR (National Public Radio.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer listening to audio books or reading the words yourself?

Do you prefer holding a book in your hands and turning a paper page or reading a book on an electronic device?

What do you think of the current “hook” in my novel? Do you think it would work as well if you were hearing it instead of reading it?

Janet

#TwoForTuesday: Two Books that Help Me Sleep at Night

I’ve enjoyed participating in the #TwoForTuesday blog prompts in February and can’t wait to see what Rae of Rae’s Reads and Reviews has in store for us in March. Today’s prompt was “Two books that Help you sleep at night.”

If you’ve followed by blog for a few months, you know that I suffer with insomnia. My sleep is way out of whack. I have trouble staying awake during the day and trouble going to sleep at night. My doctor has referred me to a sleep coach. Yes, it’s gotten that bad.

When challenged to write about two books that help me sleep at night, I was hard-pressed to come up with a response. The “two” I settled on are The Bible and just about any audio book. I know – that’s more than two actual books and not very specific, but they’re what I came up with.

1.  The Bible

The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

This isn’t just the correct “Sunday School” or children’s sermon answer. This is my real answer. My nighttime insomnia aside, the book that allows me to give my troubles and worries to God so I’m not tossing and turning and wringing my hands is The Bible. I still do more than my share of tossing and turning, but it’s not because I despair.

I find The Message:   The Bible in Contemporary Language the easiest to understand and, therefore, the most comforting. The Message is a paraphrase of The Bible and was written by Presbyterian minister Eugene H. Peterson.

2.  Just about any audio book

Until recently, I swore off listening to any books. I found it stressful. I felt like someone was talking “at” me and wouldn’t shut up. Got on my last nerve kind of stress.

Then, I got vertigo. In fact, I had two kinds of vertigo. One has cleared up, but the other still has me in physical therapy. Using the computer and reading tend to trigger an episode. Therefore, I’ve listened to two audio books so far this month plus part of a third. Even the ones I enjoy, eventually put me to sleep.

That’s not what Rae meant!

The #TwoForTuesday challenge in Rae’s Reads and Reviews (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646) wasn’t “two books that put you to sleep.” It was “two books that help you sleep at night.” I understand the difference. I just couldn’t come up with a second book in addition to The Bible.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are two books that help you sleep at night?

Janet