As a writer works out what to put down on paper—which word, which character, which fact, which heading—the thoughts often move along many simultaneous paths. Connected ideas and tangents flow as the writer labours—the chronology of unfolding events, the tension of the story’s main conflict, the relationships between characters, dialogue and scenes, descriptions of setting, the climax, the ending, and all the paths that must be travelled to take readers to a satisfying conclusion. Almost all of this work takes place in silence.
Naturally it’s difficult to get into the flow of writing when surrounded by noise and interruptions, so writers tend to work alone where it’s quiet. But I’ve been trying something different lately, as I edit, and it’s based on an idea I got from A.L. Kennedy’s book On Writing.
Writers and editors often talk about voice. What is it that makes your writing distinctively yours? It is the particular way you put your words and ideas together that makes your work stand out from that of other writers. With your voice, you create something new and unique.
But most think of voice as something silent that moves from the mind of the writer to the minds of readers through the medium of a printed page or screen.
Kennedy’s concept of the writer’s voice includes the actual sound of language that comes from the vocal chords of the writer, the physicality of making noise out of the words that were written down. Something happens to a story when the writer—who is a storyteller, after all—reads out loud, something that is different from the quiet actions of writing and reading.
Try This at Home
Take a passage that you’ve written in draft form, or even a full manuscript if you’ve got a few hours. Instead of editing your work in silence, read it out loud. You can do this alone or you can ask someone trusted to sit and listen to your story. You could even record it and play it back to yourself.
See what ideas you get from the spoken words and the sounds you hear, the rhythm of your sentences, the sequence of your ideas. See how much life you can breathe into your characters, your story, your voice. Inevitably you will begin to hear something in your writing that you would have missed if you had been reading it in your head the whole time, in silence.