Reading Aloud versus Acting It Out
I've just discovered that my library offers downloadable audiobooks for checkout, and in the interests of multitasking I've been giving the service a whirl.
I'm a tough customer. I read pretty fast when I'm reading silently. Reading aloud is much slower, and I realize I give a book the same amount of time—so not as many pages—grace period. The audio version has to hook me early to keep me with it. It's not just the content that might catch me or chase me away, though. My mother was a musician who went into radio, and my father was in linguistics. Hearing the parental job chatter has left me sensitive to sound quality, vocal effects, and dialects. Readers who deploy breathy women, gruff men, and cartoonish Southerners make me want to pass out throat lozenges and anthropologist surveys and move on to the next book.
This month is Script Frenzy, a challenge to write a screenplay in 30 days, so I've been thinking about more of the technical aspects of writing style. For my project, I'm adapting a novel into a film script. As I decide what to cut, what to translate to fit into the new format, it reminds me of the audiobooks. Many audiobook readers are actors; to what degree is a novel a script?
Novels may leave more to the imagination, but they spell out more than most screenplays, too. A movie can show in a glance what a book might take pages to describe; a novel can reveal depths of interior life that movies have trouble showing in much detail. Dialogue in movies and books have tactics that aren't available to audio versions: actual different actors in the movie, separate lines for each speaker in books.
Writers don't just rely on the visual to distinguish between speakers, of course, which brings me back to my whine about some audiobooks and their affected voices. The words themselves offer clues about the speaker. Maybe the words are enough, or maybe it's like advice about writing in dialect: a little goes a long way.
I get great pleasure out of listening to a good audiobook, though. My multitasking premise is thwarted; I can't listen closely and pay attention to a task of any complexity at the same time. I'm reminded why my kids like to be read to, even though they can now read to themselves. Hearing a voice, letting the words roll over you, adds another layer of absorption in the story and at least the illusion of community—someone else is reading this book!
You can hear some great original audio shorts at the Third Coast Audio Festival. You can read screenplays online (scroll down the #scriptchat page for a list of links). See Hamlet instead of reading it, David Tennant as Hamlet (virtue is its own reward). Are there any voices that make you melt? (I won't laugh if you won't bring up my thing with the Geico guy.)