Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Something Else to Worry About: Writing for Audio

by Deren Hansen

Continuing my theme of tormenting those working on NaNoWriMo, here's something else you need to worry about as you write: writing for audio.

Thanks to Audible's Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), if you retain the your audio rights it's now easier than ever to have your book produced as an audiobook. As with any new medium, however, there are things to take into account if you want your work to translate well.

Mary Robinette Kowal, who is both an author and a narrator, recently shared her tricks for writing fiction for audio:

"I try to keep my cast of characters in a given scene small and of disparate type.  It’s hard on a listener to distinguish between a lot of different voices, even if the narrator is Mel Blanc. Just listen to Writing Excuses, even with four different people, the guys sometimes bled together. When I’m teaching people how to give an effective reading, I tell them to look at their selection and make sure it’s something suitable for being read aloud. Not all fiction works well in audio. The side effect of this for print is that I’m more likely to write a diverse cast, instead of having ten white men of the same age in a room — and seriously, I had to narrate that once. It gives me more distinct characters.
"I avoid parentheticals. Seriously… those look good on the page, but when you are trying (this is really just a problem with audio, although even on the page it can create confusion sometimes) to connect the end of a sentence to a beginning that the reader has forgotten (they always forget) it can get complicated to make understandable and (go ahead and try to read this aloud (also ask me in a bar about the two-page nested parenthetical I had to read)) you’ll see what I mean.
"I avoid homophones. Take the word “moue” for example. It’s a lovely word on the page and describes a flirtatious pout. But there is no way to read, “She gave a small moue in reply” as anything other than, “She gave a small moo in reply.” Believe me. I’ve tried."

This is only a small sample of what Mary has to say, but it's well worth your time — unless you're convinced your work will never be narrated — to read the entire article.

[Good luck not worrying about homophones when you get back your writing.]

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. This article is from Sustainable Creativity: How to Enjoy a Committed, Long-term Relationship with your Muse. Learn more at

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