Thursday, February 22, 2007

Read Me A Story

She's in her late sixties, slightly overweight, hair dyed dark brown with red highlights. She has reading glasses resting low on her nose. She reads from the page, the words coming easily to her lips, each one richly expressed:

"'Do you know you’re bleeding?' Carol asked. She was on top, straddling him, but not allowing him to enter. He shifted under her, the tension of arousal making him uncomfortable.

"Glancing down at his chest, Mark was surprised to find his sternum flecked with blood. He jerked at the handcuffs.

"'It must have happened when I kissed you,' she said.

"He ran a tongue along his lower lip, tasting the blood there, feeling for a bite. She watched him, amused.

"'No, I didn’t bite you,' she said. She reached into her mouth and carefully pulled something from under her tongue. She had a razor blade between her fingers; a safety razor carefully cut in two."

The woman reading this passage smiled to herself, satisfied by the moment. The rest of the group waited for her to turn the page and resume the reading. The story was mine, a bit of uncomfortable eroticism called "Eating Cake". The location was a writer's group. Listening to this being read by someone else, someone whom I never would have imagined reading this work in the first place, accented the rough points in the tale for me and showed me what worked and what didn't.

In almost every writing class, students read their stories out loud, emphasizing those points needing emphasis, interpreting their work as a form of performance art. Except when they turn their writing over to a reader, there is no guarantee the reader will faithfully interpret what is before them. So, what's a writer to do?

Give that work to someone else to read out loud. Give it to someone who isn't necessarily going to read with the finesse of Meryll Streep or the knowing smirk of Jack Nicholson. Give it to someone to read what they see. Someone who will let the work speak for itself.

It's amazing what you will hear. All your missteps will be laid bare. Passages which you thought were clear will show themselves as muddled. You will see your work in a whole other light.

Reading your own work out loud is critical. Listening to someone else read your work is illuminating. Both are valuable tools for proof-reading. Okay, so it's not always practical, and not always desirable. But it's still another strategy. And isn't that what we're looking for? Using different approaches to proofing and editing your work keeps you fresh.

So ask Aunt Maggie if she'll read to you, just like when you were a kid. Or ask that hottie at the bar to read a page to you, maybe offering one drink per page, or perhaps per paragraph (I'm thinking about free verse). Hell, see that guy hanging outside the playground, the dude with the rubber bands around the knees of his pants and the raincoat? Okay, maybe not him.


Kate S said...

You speak of rough spots, Stewart, but I can tell that if this were longer, I can think of a number of erotic romance and erotica publishers who would love it.

I thought Carol was a vampire, and those still sell well to the e-pubs even though everyone says there are too many vamp stories, but even if she isn't (which is also interesting - they love strong heroines, and I liked her right away ;), I think you can polish, extend and send this baby out.

Just my two cents.

And I just tried to read my own stuff aloud - won't try that again, because I'll give up writing forever. lol

DonkeyBlog said...

I guess that's why publishers always try to drag us along and listen to an author read excerpts from his or her book.

And ofcourse, this has ever been the rhealm of performers of that very hated artform (at least around these parts, anyway), poetry! Poetry really, really changes depending on who's reading it, and how.

etain_lavena said...

gosh when I was in poetry class we always swapped our poems and read it out load, the Dr gave us pictures the day before, he took the one picture from the one girls saying aloud to difficult and handed it to me, me being the crusader for the underdog: saying so do you want to embarrass me in front of everyone again(he always did that with me, we always faught...that man was brilliant)...he simply replied I know you have something different to offer. So that night i went all out the pic was about an old lady sitting in front of a bra shop...she looked so sad, so I wrote a poem of this woman doing kamasutra, with rough riders and hell knows what else, life really rided(its not so descriptive in English) her....the next session dear Dr decides he will read mine out load....I instantly blushed cause I knew I was being wickey wild. He pronounce everything in it's rough rawness, stopping at phrases smiling, gigling.....I taught to myself gosh he is gonna take me out once again and I will be on my hind legs, and we will fight again.
What did he say when he looked at me all red faced and embarrassed to hell. I told you, this is wonderfull.....gosh.....
I think he wanted me to be better(he saw I could)...thats why we always fought so much...
After days of our lives it is a god idea if you hear your own work.
Loved the beginning of this post

Charles Gramlich said...

I always read my stuff outloud but hadn't really thought of having someone else read it out loud to me. I'll have to try it.

Matt said...

Reminds me of when I was majoring in creative writing as an undergrad w/ some professors from the Iowa Writer's Workshop....

I was always too intimidated to write fiction.

Clifford said...

You know, sometimes I use the "text-to-speech" feature of Word and listen to my stuff get read back to me. The voice is robotic (you can actually buy pretty human-sounding ones to replace it from AT&T, but they're spendy), but it actually gets the punctuation and empashis right, so it reads it as you wrote it. If you can stand the robotic voice, it's an embarassment-free alternative for early drafts...

Bird on a Wire said...

Listening to somebody read my work makes me so uncomfortable...but you're right, it is absolutely necessary.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Kate, this is actually an excerpt from an entire story. I think I will be revising it slightly and sending it out, though I am not sure where to send it.

I think power exchange and other elements of the bdsm world make for fascinating elements in dark fiction.
I remember this one woman I knew tried writing about a murder that occurred at a bdsm club, but the story lacked the feel of that community. It didn't have authenticity and therefore didn't crackle.

Donkey, I have listened to authors read their own work, and it is fascinating to hear them do their own interpretation. Still, as a fan of books on tape, I love some of the readers they get to interpret.

Etain, good to get praise, isn't it. Especially from an educator whome you respect.

Charles, seriously...having someone else read your work is difficult but amazing. Especially if they are not that good at reading out loud. Hearing them struggle through your prose, listening to where the rough parts are,listening to the pacing as someone else rides it in is amazing.

Cliff, I don't know if the electronic voice thing would work for me. It's uniformity wouldn't work with the rhythm I'm looking for or the intonations I want to hear. There's a texture to the human pronunciation and reading.

Bird on a Wire...I agree. I love it and hate it.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Matt, I'm curious. Why do you find fiction writing too intimidating?

deslily said...

text-to-speech? is this only available on the newest version of word???

Christina said...

Great suggestion. For some reason, reading out loud to myself I don't catch nearly as many mistakes as when I read in front of a group.

Erotica though. . . I'd be shy about someone reading my erotica out loud. It's funny you wrote this though because a friend and I are talking about published erotica writers. I'll probably need to go under another name though because I'm also trying to write a few YA on top of my regular Urban Fantasy novels. One can slide into the other, but erotica is very much out of that loop.

JR's Thumbprints said...

At work, having someone read my short stories back to me proved difficult; trying to find someone with a 5th grade or higher reading level had been a challenge. I've always consider this a good practice.

Travis said...

This is definitely a good strategy. I use it often. I notice that I don't emphasize the same things when I read silently as I do when I read my work out loud.

I get nervous when someone else reads my work, but you're right - it really reveals things you would catch otherwise.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I don't think so deslily, I think he meant he uses the latest version of word.

You know Christina, the thing that was fun about having this woman read the erotica out loud is that she didn't fit the story at all. Her reading stretched it to a different level.

I can understand the shyness about reading one's own work, especially if that work is erotica.

By the way, my writing often has dark images, some adult's one of the reasons I have problems when people bring children to a writers' group, or when teens under eighteen show up.

I support writers' groups for teens..then writers groups for adults. I also support writers groups for poets SEPARATE from writers groups for fiction.

Yeah, JR I can see, given your profession, where that might be a challenge.

Thanks Travis..again, as often happens, you and I are on the same page, paragraph and punctuation mark.

Heather in Beautiful BC said...

Hey, I'm here via Trav's Thoughts.

Whew... how could you leave me hanging there wanting to hear more about the razor blade! Yikes!!!

Great advice about reading out loud :)

Turnbaby said...

I try to have someone read all of my stuff--if not out loud at least through. Thanks Trav smooch

It's very helpful to read it through yourself as well--I am skilled at reading out loud and will do my own work--although my audience is lacking. LOL

I love erotica--and seem to have a skill there as well. It's especially important to get input on this.

Interesting part of a story Stewart. I'd quite like to read the rest.

spyscribbler said...

That's great advice: having a friend read your work out loud. I've heard authors make clunky sentences flow, because they've read their own work so much.

There's some sort of trigger in me. Whenever someone reads out loud to me, I go to sleep. I tried listening to audiobooks in the car, and I had to pull over 3 times to take a nap, during a 4 hour drive.

Hey! You didn't put any hypnosis spells on me, did you? :-)

spyscribbler said...

(And I like the story, Stewart!)

Nathalie said...

My first visit here. What a powerful story you used to make your point! Love it. Will be back!

Cheers from Sydney, Australia

Stewart Sternberg said...

heather welcome. Glad you could come. I like Trav's blog.

Turnbaby, I am revising Eating Cake now. When I finish in about a week, I will be happy to send it to you or to anyone else who would like to see why that fellow is handcuffed to the bed, why that woman is straddling him with a razor blade, and what the outcome will be.

Spyscribbler, thanks for the compliment. If you would like I would happy to send you the entire revised story when finished.

Nathalie, welcome from Australia. I love it when people from other continents come to play. I hope you will return. And I will also let you know when the full story is available for private reading.

TopChamp said...

That's interesting - but it makes sense.

Asara said...

Great Caesar's Ghost, Stewart. You've got me squirming all over the place here from imagining that razor blade, and where exactly she kissed him to make him bleed.. oog. Lovely imagery, I must say. Phew!

Stewart Sternberg said...

top champ, thanks for the visit. Hope to see you around.

Asara, my lovely, what says sexy like handcuffs and a razor blade?