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Total Copout

May 19, 2010

Sometimes, folks will try to start a conversation by asking hypothetical questions, like “If you were going to kill someone, how would you do it?” or “Would you rather eat a live snake or a dead rat?” (Poison, and the rat, thanks, as long as it died of natural causes.) On a somewhat less morbid level, I’ve been asked the question “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” enough times that I now have a prepared answer, which is that I would find deafness preferable because writing is very visual.

However, I think I need to reconsider this answer. As much as it certainly helps to be able to see words on the page, I frequently end up reading my work aloud to myself to experiment with how it sounds. My grammatical abilities are not derived from academic experience, but from an instinct that tells me that certain things “just don’t sound right.” Sometimes reading something on the page or on the screen is not enough; I need to hear the words read aloud to detect the parts that don’t flow properly, or the parts that have errors in them.

Almost every time I submit a non-fiction article, I review it in several ways. I count my sentences to make sure none of my paragraphs is too lengthy, because eye strain is a bitch. (I admit, I don’t do that on this blog. Read it and suffer, mwahahahaha!) I read the article once quietly, and then I read it a second time aloud. Frequently, the second time through is the time when I catch problems. Reading aloud is like writing something by hand; it forces me to slow down and really look at the words.  Sometimes my eyes play tricks on me, and I see a word that isn’t there, a phantom preposition that must be there because it should be there. My eyes and ears together are pretty reliable.

Fiction writing involves even more talking to myself. I like to hear certain lines of dialogue read in the voice of the character who’s speaking them. (That’s right, I not only talk to myself, I do voices. This is what happens when a former actress turns to writing, I guess.) I actually have a quiet fear that one day, a complete stranger will witness me acting a scene between several different characters.  It would look like this:

Greer (hard-boiled detective, Brooklyn accent): Ok, you dirty bum. You’re gonna tell me where you stashed the stuff.

Greer (weasly mobster, high-pitched, whining, unplaceable European accent) Come on, Joe. You know I don’t know nuttin.

Greer (whiskey voiced femme fatale) That’s enough.  Maybe I can tell you what you want to know.

It would be like someone walking in on me naked. Sometimes I even worry that my neighbors overhear these little conversations through the floor. They might just think I’m crazy, but I don’t think that’s going to stop me from reading aloud anytime soon.

So, blind or deaf? Well, it’s not as if I write concrete poetry. And one can get a Braille keyboard these days. Ultimately though, as with the question, “Would you rather have dinner with an anorexic or with the world’s fattest man?” the real answer is “Neither, thanks.”

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