Listening to writers, writing to be heard

Human language involves a plethora of two-way avenues: we listen to others, we speak to be heard; we read language documented in writing and write our own language for briefer or longer preservation. Two-way streets can hold one-way traffic so we don’t create expressed language with the requirement of an audience. We couldn’t, however, listen to others or read their expressions before those others put together the words we meet with ears and eyes. We also speak from what we’ve read, listen to once-written—and never-written—texts. It’s a glorious interchange in which we develop and exercise so many skills that blend and fold and emerge from each other.

The Portable Stories project offers writers a path for reaching original publication in professionally performed audio. To date it’s gone through one full cycle from short story theme announcement, to writing contest submissions and judging, through casting and recording the winner. The second cycle’s writing portion closed last month and announcement of the winning text happens next month. Then it’s on to recording and producing that audio short story, along with the next theme announcement.

The end result, besides a proud winner, is a short story audiobook experience for listeners who want to download it either for free or for a charitable donation to a any of a selection of nonprofits. For authors who may have participated in writing groups where they’ve heard others and themselves read from works in progress, this is a different kind of authorial listening experience. The narrator reading the new work brings his or her performance talents to bear on the written words, bringing clarity to how both text and performer are essential components of the audiobook experience.

Amateur efforts at creating similar listening experiences can be found in classrooms where students are recorded while practicing their visual reading fluency. However, when the narrator is trained in exactly the skill sets needed for excellent execution of a text, attention moves to that intersection between author and performer, between the written word and the spoken. As with any true blend, the result is different from either component. Written language, visual reading, natural speaking, and attentive listening make a new experience for author, speaker, and reader.