Early on, I talked about the importance of selecting the right piece for a reading. Some pieces of fiction naturally lend themselves to being read aloud, while others are meant to stay on the page.
In John Scalzi’s The Sagan Diary, I ran smack into that difference. Scalzi asked me to read the preface, which he wrote as if it were a memo, in addition to chapters which were written as if Jane Sagan were talking.
The preface, though undeniably well-written, was not meant to be read aloud and at times seemed well-nigh unto impossible. Consider that the final cut of the chapter is five minutes, but the raw tape is nine minutes long. Here’s a sample of what the session sounded like.[audio:saganfumble.mp3]
Yeah. Staggering, isn’t it. That was the worst of them, and this is something that I had practiced before going into the studio.
Let’s look at what’s going on here.
The only data of ana–[stumble. I was expecting the emphasis to fall on a different syllable because in several of the previous paragraphs I had read “analysis.”]
The only datal– [I was focusing on analytical, and moved the L forward.]
The only data of analytical note are Saganâ€™s notation of The Third Bat–[I thought, Yay! I got past analytical, and then saw “Provence” and didn’t prep for it.]
The only data of analytical note are Saganâ€™s notation of The Third Battle of Provence and the Special Forces retrieval [stumble] of the Bat– [The first stumble was thinking ahead about Baton Rouge, and the second stumble is that even with thinking ahead, I still didn’t prep for it.]
The only data of analytical note– [Damn. Analytical again.]
The only data of analytical note are Saganâ€™s notation of The Third Battle of Provence and the Special Forces retrieval [stumble, but I’m trying to bull my way through it] of the Baton Rougeâ€™s [stumble, still trying to fight through] ill-fated Company D, about which of course we have a wealth of information, thanks to all the BrainPals that encounter sent our way, and a
discussion of her relationship with prisoner of war named Cainen–[On the page, Cainen was at the top of the new page, and I wasn’t properly prepped. I could have bulled through because I hadn’t actually mispronounced it yet, but I knew how many other mistakes were in that one so I gave up.]
[pause to say the words that keep tripping me up.]
The only data of analytical note are Saganâ€™s notation of The Third Battle of Provence and the Special Forces retrieval of the Baton Rougeâ€™s ill-fated Company D, about which of course we have a wealth of information, thanks to all the BrainPals that encounter sent our way, and a discussion of her relationship with prisoner of war named Cainen Suen Su, whose stay with and work for the CDF is classified but otherwise well-documented. [hurrah!]
Now some of those stumbles are because of words that are not of English origin. Provence, Baton Rouge, and Cainen Suen Su. It’s not that the words are hard to say in and of themselves, it’s because they require different mouth shapes than one uses with most English words. Plus, “Rouge’s” is just plain hard to say gracefully.
By contrast, Scalzi says that the Sagan chapters were written, “to reflect to some extent how someone might communicate with themselves in their own brain, and specifically what I think Jane’s internal monologue would be. This includes, for me as a writer, a focus on the flow of words, which I tried to make less like dialogue or conventional storytelling and more like a person remembering events and commenting to herself.”
These had a natural flow so even though the sentences were complex, the words led very naturally from one to the next. Chapter 8, which is about eight minutes long, was read in one take. I think there were two internal pickups, both of which were for performance. Swing by Scalzi’s site to listen to all the chapters.
So,the lesson to take from this is that when you are looking for a piece to read aloud, actually read it out loud as part of the selection process. If you stumble a lot, chances are that you should look for a different cutting. The other thing to learn from my mistakes is that when you are in a public reading, keep going and don’t look back. If you think about the mistake you’ve just made, chances are you’ll make another right away.