To [read] aloud is very brave – (138)

During the past six months, I have been told that I read poorly aloud by multiple people. Never in my life has anyone said this to me so frequently.

When I was twelve years old, I started becoming interested in public speaking. (I say my interest starts at twelve, because I remember going to nationals for the science fair that year. I was more con artist than scientist affectionately.) I began participating in debate groups, dabbled in stand-up comedy for awhile, and even started recording myself just talking about things to see how it sounded. It’s something I still do. I loved standing in front of a crowd, but now I wonder if that love is leaving me.

I have been feeling down lately about it all. Even if my writing isn’t that great, I hope to at least read a piece well before an audience and connect with someone. In the last six months, I keep hearing things like:

“I can’t pay attention, because I get lost in your voice.”

“You sound robotic.”

“Stop reading that way. Just let me read it to myself.”

These words rebound in my thoughts too often. Just this past week, I was going to read a few paragraphs from Chris Offutt’s “My Dad, the Pornographer” to my student organization, a group that I am considerably comfortable with, and I hesitated before reading and became apathetic to a degree. I thought for a moment that I should have asked for someone else to read and spared them all the sound of my voice.

I like to think back to a moment in my Keats class last spring when a student said to me during discussion: “Sarah Key, I love it when you read aloud. It just makes things click.” I think back to my best friend and how she was the first person to ever tell me that she liked my voice. I think back to last summer when one of my students raucously shouted, “I love your voice!” over the drum of other oddities being yelled my way, and that stands out to me more than anything.

Lately, I hear the words robotic and stop when I begin to read aloud. I wonder if I am dragging my feet to submit an abstract to this forum or neglecting setting up certain local lit events, because I don’t want to hear my own voice at them. I wonder if I have stopped reading to myself in the mornings when I am alone for the same reason.

Re: Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs

Yesterday, my creative writing group experimented with a prompt derived from Chuck Palahniuk’s essay Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs. We read the essay out loud (link) followed by a group confession of addictive “thought” verbs. We talked about what we found agreeable or disagreeable in Palahniuk’s essay before working on the prompt individually.

chuck-palahniuk-thought-verbs

The group liked Palahniuk’s advice on thesis statement paragraphs and burying detail in actions or gestures. However, we noted the necessary quality of frontloading in short stories.

We did not entirely agree with his argument against leaving characters alone. We agreed that, as readers, we wanted to see a character worry and wonder.  We wanted to see the inside of his/her mind. I mentioned Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin as a novel that shined primarily through its exploration of the main character’s thoughts.

And so, the discussion continued weaving at times between contradiction and flattery and frustration…

Prompt

Pulling the three sentences from Palahniuk’s homework section of Nuts and Bolts, I asked the group to avoid “thought” verbs and write about the sentence of their choice.

1. “Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

2. “Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

3. “Larry knew he was a dead man…”

We ended up with pieces about Nancy the dumpster diver, Nancy the homewrecker, and Nancy the waitress. Some writers combined all three sentences into one story. In another piece, Larry was right. He was a dead man.

Final Thoughts

After writing, participants noted how they kept having to go back and rewrite sentences, because of their subconscious reliance on “thought” verbs. Occasionally, a writer found that a verb slipped through the cracks. (“Dammit, remember.”) We also mentioned that Palahniuk’s advice was more applicable to the body of prose writing, not dialogue.

I can’t say that anyone from the group will keep up Palahniuk’s challenge through December, but for a restrictive prompt, there weren’t any complaints.

What do you think about Palahniuk’s essay? Do you agree or disagree?