Off the Page

Writers must play a role in marketing their work, so that prospective readers will know about it, and them as writers. Central to that role is taking their written words off the page by reading aloud. Sometimes there are full-length reads in person, or short clips meant to entice readers to want more. Writers also speak publicly about their experiences as writers. In all cases, it is important to give a strong presentation.

Before stories were written, they were told aloud. We still read them aloud today. As a child my parents read to me before bed, which I hope to do someday when I have children of my own. Some of my favorite TV shows were essentially narrations of the stories they were based on, from Beatrix Potter’s tales to The Railway Series by Reverend Awdry (these were narrated by George Carlin and Ringo Starr). The narrators I remember did an excellent job. I watched them over and over again. Those stories stuck with me. In recent years when I volunteered at a library annex on Ft. Meade, once in a while I read aloud to visiting children. Listening to and telling stories are a way we can connect to each other.

In school I read my work aloud, which continued at St. Mary’s. I listened to writers talk as part of the college’s VOICES reading series. Back in high school I participated in the drama club, where I had to memorize lines. Public readings and talks are themselves a dramatic performance. Therefore the writer is an actor playing a role. Charles Dickens gave numerous readings of his work (notably A Christmas Carol). He actually considered becoming an actor before he started writing. Nevertheless, he was a master of vocalizing characters. It has been sadly noted his time was before voices could start being recorded, so we can never hear what he sounded like.

My mother told me I could once recite Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat from beginning to end. I have no memory of that sadly, but I certainly have been able to quote works I have read. At work I’ve done so when people check out those works, such as Shakespeare. In my junior year of high school I participated in a Poetry Out Loud contest where I recited Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet XVIII: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”. Although I froze near the end, I managed to save my performance and ended up winning third place.

The first time I read from my work that was published was back in September at the Baltimore Book Festival, for my creative nonfiction essay on Asperger syndrome. In analogy to King George VI, that reading could be considered my Wembley speech. Though I dressed the part of a writer (someone there even commented so) right down to the Tweed jacket, I did not prepare well at all. I had to select which excerpts to read then and there. Also, in choosing I could see parts I felt could have been written better, and in the end I rushed through it, flustering.

People still enjoyed it, but I knew it could have been better. Pictures taken that day show me looking frustrated. To the superstitious, I guess it did not help that a black cat crossed the road as I was preparing to leave for Baltimore (no joke; that really happened). That day was a lesson to never be totally unprepared. The next reading I knew had to be better. When I agreed to participate in an open mic event back in April, I repeatedly recorded myself reading using an app on my iPhone. I listened to myself, noting where I needed improvement. After the final reading it and watching the video recording of it, I felt satisfied. I hope the next public reading will be better, and every one to come.

Author, teacher, speaker and voiceover artist Izolda Trakhtenberg discussed the importance of speaking well at the Annapolis MWA meeting last week. She showed us different exercises to help in preparation for reading aloud. In many ways they reminded me of Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech. She showed us a writer needs to have good vocal presence, posture, balance, breathing, and must connect with the audience by maintaining eye contact. Regulated breathing helps you speak better. Eye contact has always been difficult for me, with my Asperger syndrome.

I and others at the meeting read a few lines of dialogue from published or unpublished work. In my case, I read from an early scene in my novel, during the protagonist’s first meeting with his eventual mentor. Izolda mentioned I started strong but went softer and mumbled. Would that not have happened had I practiced? Perhaps. Still, I was complemented for using a lower pitch of voice for my mentor in contrast to my protagonist to show who was more confident and self-assured. She suggested to all of us that we record samples of different vocal tones so to remember them for specific characters.

Public appearances are important. Now I don’t want my presentation of myself to become my life. I hope to live a private life away from public eyes, so it in turn can truly inspire my work. Nevertheless I hope to do more readings, so people will know me and my work. I’m sure there will have mistakes, but I accept that. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. The best I can do is minimize them as much as I can.

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3 thoughts on “Off the Page

  1. Really well said, Andrew! You get better each time you read and will continue to improve the more you do it! I admire
    your striving to constantly improve yourself!

    Liked by 2 people

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