The Great Oral Tradition

I’ve discovered a new way to read short stories – by reading them out loud.  I’ve always done this with poetry, partly because I perform it and so need to know how it sounds, but mainly because I don’t know if the poem works until I hear it.  Stephen Fry’s excellent book ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ encourages readers to read all poetry aloud, and it’s good advice.  Until we learned to make marks on parchment or papyrus or whatever, everything was in the oral tradition; so it always seemed natural to me to read or recite poems aloud, right from when, as a child, I learned Hilaire Belloc’s and Winnie-the-Pooh’s poetry off by heart.

But it never occurred to me to do it with prose, and as a result, when I was revising a story, I often ran into problems I didn’t know how to resolve.  I felt that it didn’t sound right but I couldn’t tell what was wrong.  And then I had an ‘aha!’ moment – a eureka moment, if you will – and I realised that it might help to read the story out loud.  And it did!  I instantly became aware of repetitions and unwanted assonances and all sorts of things.  And the story improved immediately.  I’ve been working on two or three stories today and made great progress.

So I’ve decided that what we writers need is not FR Leavis’s Great Tradition but the oral tradition.  We don’t need some ponced-up academic telling us who is and isn’t worth reading: we need to go back to our roots.  We need to speak and hear and listen – only then do we know what works.

I’ve not been around for a while because I’m away at the moment, so will blog when I can.

Kirk out

 

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5 Comments

Filed under novels and longer works, poems, short stories

5 responses to “The Great Oral Tradition

  1. Where does sub-vocalisation fit in?

    Spock out

    • Sarada Gray

      Do you mean saying it in your head?  I’m not really sure where that fits in; I imagine a lot of people do that when they’re reading anyway, but it doesn’t seem to hit the spot in the way that reading aloud does.  You can easily skip bits when you’re reading in your head

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  2. It’s worth googling sub-vocalisation. It clearly comes between reading out loud and speed reading and following your argument will provide more eureka moments than speed reading. Composers of music are very specific about the speed of consumption of their product – is there a case for composers of words, especially poets, to have a preferred speed of consumption, albeit not as precise as Ravel and co.? Do you ‘skip bits’ when reading poetry? I bet not.

    Spock out

    • Sarada Gray

      I think poets try to dictate the speed of reading by the way they write. Certain words and rhythms slow down the poetry, as does punctuation, line length and also the rhyme scheme. And I did, I confess, use to skip bits when reading poetry but I’ve got into better habits now – largely through reading aloud!

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