It’s not unusual to expect someone who plays an instrument to have a ‘good ear.’ Even if you don’t play but really enjoy music you would benefit from having this attribute.
What about what writers hear when they create what their characters say?
There can be a great deal of innuendo and subtext in dialog. What we want the characters to say often goes beyond the words we choose. It comes down to how we want the characters to say the words.
And how our characters speak to the reader is how we hear them speak in our heads.
Ursula Le Guin in Steering The Craft wrote:
“A good writer, like a good reader, has a mind’s ear…Narrative writers need to train their mind’s ear to listen to their own prose, to hear what they write.”
The opportunity to ‘hear’ a character in dialog, interior monolog and exterior monolog gives the reader a chance to both be characters (First person) and be in the same space with characters. (Third person)
Writers who use language to define a character: dialect, colloquialisms, foreign phrases, diction and style hear the voice of that character clearly. How the reader will hear the voice of that character is up to the way the reader deciphers it.
As writers we naturally expect a reader to read our character’s words as we hear them in our heads. And I know for myself, I read my dialog out loud all the time to be sure it sounds the way I want it.
But when I read it out loud, am I adding the inflection, the tone, the pitch, and the raw emotion to the words because I wrote it?
Would my character’s words as written on the page be enough to replicate the dialog I hear in my head?
Writers often read their work out loud at our writer’s group with a great amount of animation. They speak the dialog with all the liveliness of an actor taking on a role. Much in the same way I fear I would do testing my own dialog.
If our goal as writers is to sync the reader to our imagination – to plug the reader into the same voice that speaks in our minds then the only way to test the written word is to have someone else read the work out loud. Then if it sounds the way we want it to sound, chances are the reader will read it that way.
One example of dialog I believe couldn’t be read any other way than the way the writer wanted it to be read is from Elmore Leonard. His dialog in general is pretty exceptional.
See what you think.
It’s a moment between two old friends, Boyd Crowder, a criminal and Raylan Givens, a US Marshal who have come to an impasse. You may recognize the names of the characters from the formidable TV series, Justified adapted from Leonard’s story Fire in the Hole.
Boyd looked at him now like he was trying to decide something in his mind.
“You’d shoot me, you get the chance?”
“You make me pull,” Raylan said, “I’ll put you down.”
If you can feel the emotion, the writer’s intent for his characters in this short exchange, then Mr. Leonard, job well done.
How often do you give your writing to others to read out loud?
Keep writing, never quit.
Christina for PenPaperWrite
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