July 1, 2015

"If you listen to something on audio, every flaw in a writer’s work, the repetitions of words and the clumsy phrases, they all stand out."

"As a writer, I say to myself, how will that sound?," says Stephen King, who's obsessed with audiobooks.

37 comments:

traditionalguy said...

This poor guy has to turn out another book every 10 months or so. So practice speaking the new one out loud must be too much work to expect.

mccullough said...

I have some cassette tapes of Tyrone Power reading Lord Byron. They're awesome. If Tyrone Power were in his prime nowadays he would be raking in the voiceover money. He has nice cadence and picks up (probably enhances) the rhythm in the work.

sydney said...

I enjoy listening to audio books when I'm doing some drudge work like lawncare or cleaning the house. But I wouldn't pay $10 for an audio book. And the person who is reading it is at least as important as the words themselves. You can have a great piece of writing but if the reader has the phrasing all wrong or is a monotone, it sucks.

sinz52 said...

I'm a copyeditor.

This is why when I edit a manuscript, I read it out loud. In fact, I'll even act out the dialogue. That way, I can find "clinkers"--turns of phrase or sentence structure that don't sound natural for a character of a given background and time period to say.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I listen to how my writing sounds, but I don't use my ears.

I hear my writing inside my head.

The problem is, I hear it as read by William Shatner.

Ann Althouse said...

Don't writers "hear" what they are writing in their head as they go along? I don't know how anyone could write well or even want to write if they didn't feel they were hearing it.

Anyway, I've been trying to listen to the Robert Gates book "Duty." I'm interspersing it with the Caro LBJ biographies. The Caro books have a great reader, Grover Gardner (the same readers as "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which I listened to last summer). And the Caro books are written in an exciting narrative style. By contrast, the Gates book is almost insufferable. Gates has no narrative flow to his story. And the reader is terrible. He misreads so many sentences, pausing in the wrong places, missing the meaning. It's ridiculous.

MadisonMan said...

Potential Problems with Audio Books.

Alexandra Burke said...

I agree with Mr. King. Word and phrase repetition stand out when listening to a book. I listen to about 50 audio books a year while commuting/cleaning the house. With Audible, I end up paying about $10/book, which I think is very reasonable and worth it.

The speaker is just as important as the author. I have discovered great books by researching other books performed by engaging speakers.

And I don't know if it is related to Amazon's acquisition of Audible, but Audible has been releasing series of books that were never previously available in audio format. Usually these series have top-notch performers.

St. George said...

The most memorable aspect of Johnson that I remember from Caro's last volume was how pitifully insecure he was as vice-president. Plus, the very week JFK was killed the Senate had commenced investigating him for corruption and Life had just run the first of a two part series on his misdeed....all forgotten.

Caro is almost 80 now. Let's hope he does not pull a Manchester and leave us hanging.

jr565 said...

The flaw in Stephen Kin'gs work is that he writes badly.

jr565 said...

"I listen to how my writing sounds, but I don't use my ears.

I hear my writing inside my head.

The problem is, I hear it as read by William Shatner.

I like to vary It with Chris Walken's voice or Arnold Shwarzennegers'.

David said...

He has a lot of flaws as a writer. His plotting has made him successful, So you have to possess a good ear.

Static Ping said...

My problem is when I write that I leave out words. The sentence is formed properly in my head but my typing misses things like prepositions and articles. I also have the bad habit of leaving "not" out of sentences when I want it there, which is kinda a big deal. Alternatively I'll spell it "no." Occasionally I'll substitute other similarly spelled words for the ones I want. The problem is if I slow down to eliminate these things, I get focused on technical matters and the creativity ebbs away. Re-reading the text helps eliminate some of the errors, but there is no substitute to reading it out loud. You don't know how stupid you sound until you say it out loud.

Of course, if I read my Althouse comments out loud people would think I am insane. I am but I don't like sharing that fact.

jr565 said...

THe problem with some of his books is that they have a section in them where the writing looks like patter, Remember in the shining where he writes "All work and no play makes jack a dull boy" he does stull ike that in his books to show that someone is crazy or experiencing ghosts or something. Open up any early King book and look for the pages, you'll see them because they look different. Its a trope tht might work once, but he does that in a ton of his books. Bad writing,also writing that would not work well for audible books.

Saint Croix said...

It's rather shocking when you read a book you enjoy out loud. What can be fun and enjoyable on the page can bore the hell out of you.

It's the #1 rule for screenwriters. They're going to read your shit out loud! You better read it out loud first. It's amazing to me how many screenwriters never read their stuff out loud.

Oral language is different than written language. When we speak, we take short cuts. When we write, we get more verbose. That's just the way it is.

I'm not reading this out loud, because if I read it out loud, I'd have to go back and edit the shit out of it. Now that I said that, I had to read the fucker out loud, just to test. It's pretty good. But now I'm adding shit that I haven't read out loud! Oh no.

Fuck it. If this was really good I would charge money. This right here is free, ain't reading it out loud shit. You're welcome. I'm looking at all these words, going no way am I reading this out loud.

Now I got to read this shit out loud again. Damn it. I'm in a read out loud loop!

Smilin' Jack said...

Don't writers "hear" what they are writing in their head as they go along? I don't know how anyone could write well or even want to write if they didn't feel they were hearing it.

Try reading without moving your lips. If you can manage that, you might understand.

Scott M said...

Just finished Neil Stephenson's "SeveneveS" and just started Andy Wier's "The Martian". I have an extensive audiobook collection thanks to the free audiobook per month benefit of having an Audible.com membership. I listen on commutes and it takes me about a month to get through a book...so it works out perfectly :)

The point King made is very true. Not only can you hear the "craft" shortcomings in a work, you get completely different vibes. For instance, in The Martian, the main character makes sarcastic comments that I assume, in the book, are in parenthesis. In the audiobook, it doesn't work as well. It stands out too much.

Scott M said...

It's the #1 rule for screenwriters. They're going to read your shit out loud! You better read it out loud first. It's amazing to me how many screenwriters never read their stuff out loud.

I don't know how many pros do this (though I suspect quite a few), but I was under the impression that all fiction writers were supposed to read their stuff aloud :)

Static Ping said...

Another thing I will note is when I proofread something I wrote shortly thereafter, I often miss goofs, sometimes blatantly obvious and horrible goofs, because in my head I am reading it as I originally conceived it in my head. Sometimes reading it out loud does not help. When I have time I wait a day and proof it again. If I was a professional writer, I would have to be freaking awesome else I'd starve to death due to low volume.

Laslo Spatula said...

I blame any bad dialogue I write on the people that I am quoting.

Their problem: they should talk themselves better.

I am Laslo.

Julie C said...

The book Cold Mountain was read by the author, who has the exact right North Carolina accent. I read the book, and later listened to it, and he really was able to add something to it because of his accent.

Jeff Gee said...

Remember in The Shining where he writes "All work and no play makes jack a dull boy"

That's not in the book. It's original to the movie..

clint said...

I've only recently gotten into audible books, but it's been fascinating which favorite books of mine read well aloud and which don't.

I usually read for character and story and the occasional clever, quotable line. Smooth, engaging, well-crafted prose is something else entirely, and its lack is really noticeable when read aloud.

clint said...

It's also worth noting that for the vast majority of human history storytelling has been an oral art form, not a written one. For most of the history of the written word, writing was for keeping inventory and tax records and memorized speech was for stories.

Audible and books-on-tape are actually a return to the original art form.

Skeptical Voter said...

Static Ping, I can't proofread worth a darn on a computer screen. If I want to do a semi competent job of proofing and editing something I've written, it has to go on paper. It's even better if I let it sit for a day or so before editing/rewriting.

Some wag once said, "All good writing is rewriting." Truer words were never spoken.

Proofreading complicated documents (SEC filings, prospectuses and such) in corporate law departments used to be a two person job, mainly done by secretaries or paralegals. One person read the typewritten text, the other reviewed the document from the printers. Two pairs of eyes, one voice--got the job done.

Mike said...

To hear the flow and spot hinky phrases or sentences I read my fiction aloud. When it's close to ready I read to my wife at bedtime. I'm planning to read the audiobook of my first published novel next year. For commercial writing -- catalog or ad copy, Web content -- I'll read aloud as I go and then also read it (silently) from end to beginning quickly because that helps spot things that the eye tends to gloss over reading normally. And when editing I'm a true Strunk & White believer, ruthlessly cutting away unnecessary words for clarity and action within the text.

Here I just blurt it out and let it go. Usually.

Just Mike said...

I say it first then write it

David said...

Back in the day, when big law firms were stately and grand, the only acceptable method of proofreading a important document or brief was for one person to read it aloud to another. As a further means to avoid mistakes, the reader and listener would switch roles.

I had this duty reasonably often as a young lawyer. My starting rate in 1970 was $25 an hour, and I bumped to $30 the next year.

Ah, the distant past.

m stone said...

A good reader makes a mediocre writer a winner, a reader who, as a man, can even handle women speaking. Women readers can't do the opposite sex well IMHO.

George Guidall is and has been the best reader/actor for years.

The Cracker Emcee said...

"The flaw in Stephen Kin'gs work is that he writes badly."

Yes, good storyteller, truly shitty writer.

I listen to audiobooks (though increasingly, history podcasts) when I'm exercising or my hands and eyes are otherwise engaged. A good reader makes all the difference. Whoever it was who read the Wolf Hall books did a masterful job. On the other hand a schoolmarmish or self-consciously fey reader can destroy an otherwise good book. Don't get cute, read the damn book.

Sarah said...

I started listening to audiobooks about two years ago, and it has been a wonderful experience, especially as I have been driving at least an hour to and from work for the last few months. That said, some books are better suited to listening than others, and a good (or bad) narrator can make or break a book. Edward Hermann could make any book good - he shall be missed. I would have listened to anything he read.

Howard said...

Been reading The Hound of the Baskervilles. I hear Holmes as Jeremy Brett and Watson as Edward Hardwicke.

Gordon said...

I read the first two books in Kate Locke's "God Save the Queen" series. I enjoyed both books. I bought the third from Audible, and disliked it quite a lot. The accent of the lead character was just wrong for who and what she was supposed to be. And the character's constant use of vulgarity and obscenity, which I didn't notice on the page, was annoying and off-putting out loud.

But some books really come to life with the audio version. The best reader I've discovered is Bronson Pinchot.

Saint Croix said...

the person who is reading it is at least as important as the words themselves.

Saul Rubinek reading Rex Stout is awesome. I know Rubinek is a fan because he went on to play Lon Cohen in the TV show. The other guy who reads Rex Stout is pretty bad. I would buy all the Rubinek Rex Stouts and avoid the other guy.

Rusty said...

jr565 said...
The flaw in Stephen Kin'gs work is that he writes badly.


And predictably. But I guess that's the attraction. I haven't read anything by him in many, many years. I think at some point in your life reality rears it's ugly head and stuff like that just seems trivial.
Or it's just me.

Unknown said...

Rex Stout FTW!

Unknown said...

But you don't like Michael Pritchard?