Improve Your Fiction — Paper, Screen, Earbuds
A little old-fashioned, I guess, but at one time in the not-too-far-distant past, I was a paper-and-ink kind of reader. If it wasn’t in print, I wasn’t reading it. Then, of course, the digital industry exploded. My daughter gave me a Nook for Christmas.
“What am I going to do with this?” I asked.
My Induction into the Digital Realm
I quickly discovered just what I could do with the little device, like buy a book that captured my interest with a click and a credit card — at eleven p.m. on Christmas night! This, I thought, was amazing. No waiting for a brick and mortar store to open. No watching for the mailman every day after ordering the book. No paying for shipping!
No need to purchase yet another bookshelf to add to my already overloaded wall of them.
What I didn’t realize was how reading a book on a different medium would change my perception of the story. Words look different on a screen. I could read faster. Changing the size of the font removed the need for reading glasses. Flipping pages was a touch away.
When a coworker who is an audio book junkie suggested I give listening a try, I scoffed.
“There’s no way I can listen to a book. I need the book in my hands! I need to see the words on a page! I have to — ”
On to the World of Audio Books
My friend ignored me and gifted me a trial membership on Audible. That was close to a thousand audio books ago.
My forty minute commute was no longer lost time — almost an hour and a half a day (without traffic) — every weekday. Instead of listening to the latest pop music or to some depressing news station or an inaccurate weather report, I dove into a story.
I was hooked.
The nice part about an audio book is that you get to know how the characters sound. They become real people in your mind even more so than just by reading about them with your eyes.
As my writing career developed, I learned something else incredibly interesting about consuming fiction in various flavors: Each story revealed another layer of itself in each format. I realized, in reading as a writer, I needed to analyze the books I was reading in order to improve my own craft.
Stephen King says: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
These are words of absolute, golden truth. Not only did listening to audio books increase the amount of time I could spend ingesting the written word, it also allowed me a priceless tool: the ability to dissect the craft behind the piece.
For example: I am a huge fan of Suzanna Kearsley, and one of my favorite books of hers is The Winter Sea. I first read the paperback. Fascinated by the structure she used to seamlessly weave together two stories separated by two different centuries, I purchased the audio book. I listened to it. Twice. Then I downloaded the digital version and, sitting up late into the night with my device on my lap, dissected her method — notepad in hand.
The nice part about the digital version is that you can do a search for a particular phrase without flipping through pages.
Each Format Offers Unique Advantages
I’m not ashamed to say I own most of my favorite fiction in all three formats. I have read, or listened to them, more than once. It’s my own personal MFA, I guess, and truthfully? I think I’m getting more out of this process than I did from the one that cost me thousands of dollars and two-and-a-half years of my life.
Broaden your reading horizon. Choose a fictional book you love and have read, then listen to the audio version. You will “hear” the rhythm of the prose, feel the jolts when an awkward phrase knocks you out of the story, sense the inconsistency in a character’s words as opposed to the person he or she is supposed to be. You will even catch repeated words the editors missed.
Delve further and download the digital version. Now, with notepad in hand, read the book again. This time take notes on those precious nuggets of storytelling — or the glitches — you find. Bookmark them on your device so you can go back and re-read them whenever the fancy strikes.Or when you’re struggling to perfect a sentence or a paragraph or a scene in your own work.
The brain receives and analyzes information differently, depending on what part of the sensory system is stimulated.
Take advantage of this scientific fact, and consume words in all their different flavors. Your fiction will improve dramatically, and your readers will thank you for it.