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November 23 Activity: Listening to Your Memoir Yields Dividends

November 23 Activity: Listening to your memoir yields dividends

As writers, we have often experienced of writing what we feel has to be deathless prose. Later, perhaps a week or a month later, when we pick up our own manuscript again, we realize that our deathless prose is perhaps closer to deadly prose.

Having your story read out loud is a revealing experience. Whether it is someone else who is reading or you yourself, it seems that you become a much more objective audience for your story than you were as the silent writer.

Today, you will learn how to apply some sound editing techniques to improving a story.

Action steps

Choose a story you have written. It may be one that you consider finished or it may be one that you feel somewhat stumped about and would like to have some feedback to improve it.

1. Either you or someone else must read the story out loud in a clear voice.  Listen to the story and ask yourself the following questions:

  • how complete and satisfying does the story sound to you?
  • do the words come together elegantly or do you hear discordant sounds?  Discordant sounds may be words that repeat themselves or they may be sounds that make the words rhyme within one sentence. The words may also be simply wrong for what you are trying to say.

2. Take notes  of your impressions as soon as possible after hearing the story. These notes should include anything that you feel is missing from the story.

3. If you are working with someone else, ask that person what is missing from the story. Does the reader have any questions?

4. If you are working alone, ask yourself what questions you might have were you a reader who is unfamiliar with the story. This can include:

  • thoughts that are not completed. Take the time to write out your thought fully.
  • allusions that are not clear. Perhaps you need to be more explicit.
  • using names of people who are not identified. For instance, instead of saying Aretha, you might say my father’s youngest sister Aretha.

This exercise is an effective one for learning to look at your story from outside of your story. You will learn the sensitivity that every good editor must have.

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