You work so hard: writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more.
Don’t forget good grammar.
And let’s proofread this sucker one more time.
Now it’s time to revise.
Finally, your prose looks good.
But does it sound good?
Don’t worry; that’s the fun part.
What’s aural writing, and why should you care?
Aural writing is a concept, like Method Writing, that I thought up. Basically it means lending rhythm to your writing, making it sound right as well as look right.
Aural writing means you structure your prose in such a way that when you read it aloud, or when your readers read it in their heads, it will sound pleasant and musical to their ears – or choppy and hard, or slow and painful, or happy and excited, etc. – infusing it with whichever feeling or mood you want your readers to imbibe.
It’s all in the ears.
Most people associate sweet-sounding prose with poetry, but your prose needs to sound good, too! Aural writing helps the reader understand what’s going on and/or what you want them to know – just by the sound and rhythm of your prose, and by your word choices.
Physically structuring your prose should be done mindfully. How long will your sentences be? Your paragraphs? Your words? What kind of punctuation will you use? The age of your audience, the mood and tone of the piece, the time period, and the characters themselves are but a few of the factors which will determine the answers to these questions.
Aural writing in prose
Listen to the following paragraph, which is from The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver:
Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning, Congo pink. Any morning, every morning. Blossomy rose-color birdsong air streaked sour with breakfast cookfires. A wide red plank of dirt – the so-called road – flat-out in front of us, continuous in theory from here to somewhere distant. But the way I see it through my Adah eyes it is a flat plank clipped into pieces, rectangles and trapezoids, by the skinny black-line shadows of tall palm trunks…. The parade never stops. Into the jangled pieces of road little jungle roosters step from the bush karkadoodling. They jerk up their feet with cocky roosterness.
What does this paragraph tell you about Adah, the character who is speaking? About the setting?
For one, there are several run-on sentences, which give a stream-of-consciousness feel to the piece. Also, the paragraph opens with a small rhyme, but screeches to a halt in the middle of the first sentence to give us a somewhat choppy end.
There is a speed to the words, as if they’re all falling out of Adah’s mouth, tumbling one over the other. It makes me feel as if all these sights, sounds, and impressions are tumbling over Adah, too. And notice the dashes.
Are you beginning to see how powerful aural writing can be?
Aural writing in poetry
With the exception of the poem I wrote when I was a very little girl (you can read it here), this is the first time I’ve had poetry on my blog. I’m presenting two poems here because an author can learn a lot about good-sounding prose from poetry’s lyrical quality.
Read the following wedding poems by Emily Dickinson. Can you distinguish the differences in tone and meaning just from the rhythm of the words? (I have copied her poems exactly as she wrote them; anything that looks like a mistake is deliberate on Dickinson’s part.)
Designed in Canva
The first poem
If you look at the poem on the left, you will find that the words are longer: in general, they have more letters and syllables than the second poem.
There is a lyrical quality to the first poem; pay attention to words such as “rose” and “dropped” – which appear on the same line, “playthings,” “honorable,” “amplitude,” “fathoms,” etc. These industrial-strength words play upon each other.
Dickinson is contrasting the ease of childhood with the seriousness of being a wife. Furthermore, she creates a connection between “amplitude” in the second stanza and “fathoms” in the third. As with “rose” and “dropped,” “amplitude” and “fathoms” have that up and down feel to them.
Finally, the phraseology is complicated. Dickinson could have said the following in the second paragraph:
If she missed anything in her new life
That was lofty or special
Her yearning was worn away with time.
Pay attention to Dickinson’s noun-verb placement, or where she puts her gerunds with respect to her simple verbs.
The second poem
Notice that the second poem is physically shorter, the words have fewer syllables, and the diction and phraseology are more modern and whimsical. Pay attention to how Dickinson uses “woman” and “wife” here as opposed to how she uses them in the first poem. Notice also words such as “Czar” and “girl,” as opposed to “woman”; “safer” vs. “honorable”; “eclipse,” “earth,” and “heaven” instead of “sea” and “fathoms.”
The second poem has a lightness to it, in no small part because of the punchiness of the words. Dickinson also uses exclamation points with impunity, and her lines are shorter than those in the second poem. All in all, this poem seems to be describing a happier wife than the one in the first poem, and the woman seems empowered rather than resigned.
And all this because of how the poem sounds.
Poetry in motion
I challenge you to play around with your prose today! Take a paragraph from your latest project and see if you can rewrite it twice, each time giving it a different feel. Perhaps you’ll use alliteration in one paragraph, words with multiple syllables in another. Or you can choose more “dark” words for one version, while the second one might have a lighter tone. Adjust each paragraph to a different audience.
Read all three paragraphs out loud and you will discover the magic of aural writing.
Enjoy this exercise, and please do paste your efforts in the Comments section. You can also email me your three paragraphs, and I’ll post them on my Writer’s Clinic page.
Happy writing and rewriting!
Want to improve your writing in 5 days?
Get a FREE email mini-course
- Writing techniques
- grammar that doesn't bite
- inspiration for the writing life