Friday, November 17, 2006

He Might Be On To Something

I shamelessly stole this tidbit from Maud Newton, but I find the fact that Richard Powers wrote(?) THE ECHO MAKER using voice recognition software fascinating. When writing or editing dialogue I always speak it out loud (or at least sound it out in my head) to make sure it's authentic. To confirm that, within the context of the story and the character, the words ring true. I always encourage others to do this as well, and spoke about it on my panel EDITING YOUR THRILLER at ThrillerFest. I've found that if you can't hear the character reciting the dialogue, or find that when spoken it sounds like grist for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 mill, it needs to be rewritten. Speaking the words out loud helps me write, helps me edit, and I truly believe that good writing often mimicks honest speech.

So maybe Powers is on to something here, because if dialogue can be honed in this way perhaps prose can be as well. And hell the guy just won the National Book Award, so he must be doing something right.

4 Comments:

Blogger Brett Battles said...

I always speak my dialogue (somewhat embarassing in a coffee shop), and I often recite the non-dialogue sections, too. Hearing it in that way, I've found dozens of mistakes, that once corrected, make the prose so much smoother.

But I gotta write it first. Don't know if I could "speak" a book.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Sarah Weinman said...

If there's a running theme in Powers' novels (granted, I've only read two, but I have it on pretty good authority) it's the nature of connection, and how disparate topics interact with each other. So even though I'm not sure I could use DragonNaturallySpeaking or other voice recognition software, I can understand why - because speaking is a more direct way to engage the brain than is thinking, then typing, then transcribing. It's almost like a middleman gets cut out. Me, I "hear" what I'm writing, and I type pretty fast, so it may not be a direct channel between brain and screen but it's pretty close. Same thing with dialogue - if I can't "hear" it properly, or the voices aren't distinct, I know it's not working.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Bryon Quertermous said...

I've tried a couple of times to dictate or use VRS but for me the actual act of typing is what draws me into the story. I know it sounds weird, but I actually hear the conversations in my head as I write them out and I think hearing it all in my voice would ruin that for me. Though for one of my hypermedia writing workshops I did some experimentation with VRS and think there's a lot of fun stuff to be mined there but I'm not interested in it right now.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Katie. said...

I agree with Brett--I don't think I could "speak" an entire book, either. (For the record, I'm a struggling unpublished writer, just so you all don't think I have any real authority on writing books.) But I always recite my dialogue after I've written it. For me (especially in the beginning of the book) reciting the dialogue shows me that I've either found distinctive voices for my characters, or they all sound exactly the same. Most of the time it's the latter, so reciting my dialogue is my first step towards editing it.

Also, like Sarah, I "hear" what I'm writing in my mind (my internal dialogue, I suppose) and I type very quickly. (My parents made me enroll in a Keyboarding course when I was in high school and I thought it was the dumbest elective ever. Of course, now I'm thrilled that they did because I don't think I'd have gotten so much written if I had to hunt-and-peck or hand write everything.)

Mostly, I think VRS will be most useful to writers who have trouble physically writing (A. Manette Ansay comes to mind, for only one example out of many, I'm sure). Once my arthritis (I was diagnosed with it when I was 12, and I'm only 25 now) gets to the point where writing is no longer feasible, I'll probably thank my lucky stars for VRS.

7:03 PM  

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