Friday, August 6, 2010

Listening to Myself

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last couple days listening to myself talk.

Now, anyone who knows me more than a little bit would probably snort at that idea.  I’m probably the sort of person who can be described with the words, “He likes the sound of his own voice.”  The thing is, though, most of the time when people who like the sound of their own voice talk, they don’t actually listen.  Or, more likely, they listen to the words.

I’ve actually been listening to myself talk.

It’s been a bit of an education.

I have a tendency to drop in to what I call my “storyteller’s voice” whenever I start telling a story.  I slow down my speech, tend to be far more careful in my enunciation, and take long pauses to emphasize points.  All of these things go back to my old speech team days and, to a lesser extent, that period of time when I wanted to be a pastor.  I was always told to speak more slowly when being coached for the speech team, as people tend to talk faster than they think they do.  I got in to a habit of over-enunciating and taking long pauses when giving messages in church or arguing fine theological points to make sure everyone understood that there was a special gravity in the words of Scripture.

As I listen to myself tell stories I hear those things.  I hear those habits.  And I can’t help but think one thing.

Holy fuck is it annoying.  I mean, seriously.  It’s annoying.

Now, there are times when it is, in fact, appropriate to slow down.  Speaking slowly can work extremely effectively when telling a ghost story, for one.  It builds atmosphere and suspense.  It also tends to cause the audience to lean in, strain to hear the next word…and just…when they’re…ready…you…


Scare the hell out of ‘em.  It’s a beautiful thing.  It also works amazingly well if you can hit a certain rhythm and accompany the words with a pounding of some sort.

But that device, as with any device, only works when used occasionally and in the appropriate setting.  If you’re telling a fast-paced, witty story, you should be fast-paced.  If you are telling some sort of informative tale for the purpose of actually teaching, slowing down and properly enunciating can be quite helpful.

It’s been an interesting lesson, really.  Especially since it wasn’t one I was exactly expecting to learn.

See, I didn’t set out to learn this about myself.  It was just kind of a by-product.

I draw a bright-line distinction between the written word and the spoken word.  Both formats of communication have their advantages and drawbacks.  Both have their own very specific methods and styles.  I’ve always known this, but never really understood how to communicate it.  It was simply something that I knew.  I have, on occasion, heard another storyteller tell something and thought, “You know, that would be much, much better as a written piece.”  On the other hand, I have been known to read something but want to hear the words aloud.[1]

One of the strange drawbacks to the whole thing is that I don’t write my stories down.[2]  This is a problem, for although I have a good memory, it’s far from perfect.  And with storytelling you kind of need to remember a lot of stuff for a long time.

The solution was quite simple: record the stories.  My first attempts came last summer.  I used my Creative Zen Vision:W, which has a built-in microphone.  It worked, but not all that well.  And it only recorded .wavs, which didn’t much like it when I tried to add things like track details.

But the idea was there.  And it was sound.  It just required me to make the necessary mental leap and think, “Wait.  I have Goldwave on my computer.  And I have two different microphones that I can use with said program.”

And yea, verily, didst I proceed to discover that I need to talk faster, pause less, and not worry so damn much about enunciation.  It’s been a good couple days.  It’s also been a long couple days.  Seriously, it should not take three hours to record three stories.

In the process, I realized a couple other things.  I often find myself composing blog posts or writing out little snippets of fiction in my head, then excitedly heading over to my computer, beginning to write, and discovering that what was in my head simply isn’t coming out of my fingers properly.  I’m beginning to think that perhaps I should record myself when I get on a role, the basically transcribe my thoughts.

I’m also flirting with the idea of podcasting, but I don’t exactly have the infrastructure set up to do that.  By which I mean the web hosting, not the technology.

I’ve also come to realize that I need to start thinking of storytelling differently.  First, I need to practice a hell of a lot more.  Second, though, I need to change the way I approach the craft and developing my skill set.  I’ve got a two-part plan for that.

First, I’m going to do an old writer’s workshop trick.  I’ll just decide that I need to, say, describe a house.  And I’ll do it.  See the house, walk in, look at the rooms, whatever.

Second, I’ll probably take something that was written by someone else and read it.

I also think that I need to spend some time working with stories that I haven’t personally created.  I’m reasonably sure that I’ll treat, say, an old Norse myth or a Jack tale differently than I treat my own stuff.

It should be interesting.


[1]One of my absolute favorite examples of this is the Drive-By 2001 remix of Poe’s “Hey Pretty,” where the verses of the song have been replaced by a reading of a short section of the novel House of Leaves.  Some things just fucking work.

Speaking of, my least favorite example of the combination of spoken word and music is auto tune.  Fucking auto tune.  I have seen it done right twice.  And one involved the Double Rainbow guy and gratuitous use of YouTube’s vuvuzela button (sadly, I can no longer find said video.  And Double Rainbow guy has been spoofed and poorly auto-tuned so many times that I'll probably never find it again).  Oddly, I was at work while doing that, so I’m reasonably certain I wasn’t drunk.

[2]Save one time.  I wrote my very first story out as part of an experiment to see about fooling around with having different endings.  It made a certain amount of sense at the time, as the story was a variation on the classical fairy tale that ended exactly the same way all classical fairy tales ended.  The alternate endings…weren’t quite fairy tale endings.

Oddly enough, part of the point of that experiment was because I was already coming up against the limitations of the spoken word.  The entire point was that I couldn’t stay in the story, but then step back and say, “Here are five different possible endings.”  With the written word I could do exactly that.

There’s also a second, where I wrote a story about telling a different story.  Oddly, both of these things currently make me happy, as those are basically two of my three oldest stories.  I’ve largely forgotten the one that was based on the experiment and I’ve largely forgotten the things I did to make the other one work.  So in both cases what I wrote kinda saved my ass.


Big A said...

in re: podcasting.

1. just upload your podcast in mp3 format on Megaupload, Rapidshare, or a similar service, link us. Tada! Podcast!.

2. upload your podcasts to YouTube as a still video with full audio.

Both free, both easy. The youtube route might even garner you extra publicity (if, yknow, that's your thing).

Geds said...

I considered the YouTube angle. But doing the still video with audio thing is kind of annoying and I absolutely hate the videos that are just people talking in to their cameras. So I rejected YouTube almost immediately.

Anonymous said...