Today was my writing group’s Christmas Party. We all passed out our Secret Santa stories. Some time back we drew names randomly and wrote a story based on some loose guidelines or preferences specified by that person. James went all out for mine, wrapping it and putting it in this nifty cardboard folder and everything. Very cool.
Remarkably, we actually read our gifted stories aloud. I was a bit surprised, but it’s all good. I last read a story for a group ages ago, and it didn’t go particularly well. It was for a class and I just really lacked the confidence to read well up there. By this point in my life I’m apathetic enough not to give a crap about speaking in public. Which is the advice I give nowadays to people who have a fear of public speaking: just remember, your audience probably doesn’t care as much as you think they do; in the grand scheme of things, whether you do well or badly really doesn’t matter. Doesn’t work so well if you actually are speaking about something important, of course, but most of us will never be in that position. Cynical perhaps, but it’s a philosophy that’s served me well.
Anyway, Sandra read my story, and did quite well (which I’ll have to tell her next time I see her, I forgot to mention it at the party). It’s kind of a long story, and of course she’d never seen it before, which made the feat all the more impressive. She actually made my mage character even more unflappable than I’d imagined, and it worked beautifully.
Readings are important, I think. The actual talent for reading your own stories aloud in an entertaining fashion is handy, of course. What use is a book tour, for example, if you can’t read an excerpt of your novel or short story collection at the book store or on some podcast? It’s part of selling yourself. Many of the creative writing classes I took at college supported readings for just that reason. I went to a number of them, and while the crowds certainly aren’t hostile, I’d hate to crash and burn in the middle of a coffee shop surrounded by my teachers and classmates and the local hacky sack team.
But they’re also useful on another level. They can point out flaws in the story. As I listened to my own story, I noticed a few spots where I’d missed things that should have been trimmed or changed to fit in with edits of other scenes. Dialog that probably could have been better, words that may have been used too often, etc. It may seem ridiculous, but reading your stories aloud to yourself (or to roommates, significant others, pets, whoever) is a good idea. You’ll get a feel for what sounds right or wrong. Sometimes things work okay as written, but when spoken sound odd. Acting is important here, as you’ll want to make sure you get the tone and voice of your story correct, so that it’ll be apparent when the printed words stray from that voice. I used to do that, and even have a tape recorder left over from those years that I could use to listen to the story again if I needed. I may have to start making that a part of my editing routine again. The reading I mean, not so much the recording. Who likes the sound of their own voice?
Next project: I need to get to revising a story I wrote a few months ago involving a ghost town, a bounty hunter, and a warped tree. It’ll need a pretty heavy rewrite. As much as I liked it, I’m not sure if the idea I was trying to get across really came across, so I may need to be more clear about certain things. Totally my fault…the people critiquing it for me liked it, I think, but I’m not sure if they read the same story I did, if that makes sense. On the other hand, the bounty hunter isn’t the type to stand around explaining what’s going on. It’s somewhat Hellboy-ish (or X-Files-ish even) in that sometimes bizarre, horrible things involving the paranormal will happen inexplicably and no satisfactory explanation will ever exist. It’ll be tricky. But there is a market that I think it would be perfect for if I can get it to work.