Honing one’s ability to listen can be very beneficial for writers. Being a good listener means paying close attention, hearing what is said, and understanding the meaning of what is said. For a writer listening skills can be helpful when reading your prose aloud and when other writers or editors are giving you criticism.
Reading aloud: One way to evaluate how your writing comes across to the reader is to read aloud what you have written. By doing so, you turn your writing from writer-based to reader-based prose. Sometimes you can just ‘hear’ the mistakes in wordage and correct them easily. Also, it slows down your visual feedback so that you become aware of punctuation, or spelling errors you might have missed by silently reading the narrative. But beyond that, reading out loud helps you to discover if the written words have three other properties:
- Flow – Flow organizes your words into easy and understandable sentences and paragraphs. Your words must speak to the audience you are addressing so that you do not muddy up the meaning or give too much information about the meaning. Good flow has logical transitions from one point to the next.
- Cadence – Cadence refers to rhythmic writing given to increase and decrease like the tides of the ocean. It can quicken or slow as needed. This not only alters the mood of the writing but emotions can be changed by the cadence, too. Altering the length of sentences, or adding pauses helps to establish cadence. Using writing devices such as alliteration (repetition of same beginning consonant sound), or sibilance (usually a hissing sound with ‘s’ or ‘z’ or ‘sh’ and sometimes a soft ‘c’) can change the cadence too.
- Pace – Pacing controls the speed of how the story unfolds, i.e., how fast or slow revelation of the events in the story happen. Fast action and rapid sequencing speed up the story while writing passages with great details slow down the pace.
Criticism by editors and other writers: Being attentive to the criticism given to you by other writers after they have read your story is also part of the listening experience. In this instance try to be open-minded. It is important to take every bit of advice and criticism and evaluate it according to what your vision of the story is and where you want the story to go. Some things may resonate with you and reveal something that will make the story better, but other things may be too vague, or not be helpful as to how you want the story to unfold. Nevertheless, if you hear the same criticism repeatedly, it is best to take a good look at what you are doing that makes that criticism valid.
Next week in Part II, I will explore another listening skill important for writers – eavesdropping!
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