Monday, September 09, 2013

Words Written, Words Heard

I’m constantly fascinated by small things of which, though they have always existed, I suddenly become aware for the first time. 

I’ve only fairly recently begun having all my books done as audiobooks, and in the process thereof realized for the first time the really significant differences between reading a book and listening to it being read aloud. The obvious--the fact that while visually reading, the mind establishes its own unheard “voice,”--aside, I am aware of differences I’d never be aware of when reading on my own: pace, rhythm, pauses, emphases, pronunciation. With my own work, I realize this is largely because I wrote the words the narrator is speaking, and must make the adjustment in my head to accept the fact that we are two separate people. 

For the most part, these problems don’t exist when listening to words someone else has written, unless I’ve read and am familiar with what’s being narrated...but I am still conscious of them.

There are also inherent subtle but basic differences between the structures and language of fiction, poetry, plays, technical works, and newspaper articles. The often unwritten rules/guidelines for directing each type of writing toward specific audiences vary widely. The language, specific words, sentence length, etc. used in writing children's books, for example, is greatly different than writing fiction for adults. Journalistic and technical writing are structured vastly different than fiction and are totally fact-based. Fiction can treat facts much more casually, though except in the case of fantasy, a certain degree of logic is generally expected. Of all forms of writing, poetry stands out as the most subjective and perhaps the most dependent on the reader’s/listener’s psychological kinship with the poet’s intent.

In fiction, generally the least constrained of all writing forms, almost anything goes, with no limit or restriction on subject matter or style. The exception to this is children’s books, which must fit within certain limitations of words which can be used and subjects which can be easily understood by young readers. If fiction is flexible, journalistic and technical writing, being almost totally fact-based, are rigid. Fiction depends largely upon its flow and structure and the words chosen and how they are used. Poetry could be considered the distillation of fiction, in that no other form depends so heavily upon the choice of exactly the right word. The distillation of thoughts/mental images into very few words is a challenge many writers...even very good writers...find difficult or impossible to meet. Fiction paints mental pictures using broad brushstrokes on large canvases, poetry strives for exquisite miniatures.

And if you’ll allow me another metaphor, if the various forms of writing  were thought of as  roads on a map, fiction would be the majority of roads--winding all over the landscape, getting to from point A to point B with a deceptive casualness. Journalistic and technical writing would be like superhighways going as directly as possible from one point to another.

But the point of this blog is to demonstrate how amazingly complex, overlapping, and interrelated human forms of communication are. We never think of it. But, every now and again, perhaps we should.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I enjoyed your analogy immensely. It's amusing to think of some fiction as being far more scenic in its route than others; country roads, little towns, dangerous places, beaches...