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.
9 thoughts on “Reading Aloud 14: Stumbling and the Sagan Diary”
personally, I find the section “Cainen Suen Su, whose stay” particularly vexing to try to read aloud
Apparently Cory Doctorow thinks you are quite hot stuff, and I quote:
“The Sagan Diaries are told from the point of view of Jane Sagan, and Scalzi recruited six all-star sf and fantasy women writers to read for Jane Sagan. The result is superb — and free!”
You can read the rest at Boing Boing.Net
Hey, you’re on BoingBoing! Cool!
You’re so right about not looking back. I can track what I’m saying and scan what’s coming next, but trying to think “Damn, I messed up!” at the same time is like tossing an extra ball into the juggling pattern…
My name is mentioned on BoingBoing, but unless there’s an actual link to my site, I’m not sure it counts.
On the other topic above, one trick I picked up from a very seasoned narrator while I worked in a recording studio was to read through the script once, highlighting trouble words and making breath marks. Then, read through the script and if I stumble finish the phrase, pause and then read that phrase again and continue. The engineer is marking the script to know where he has to edit (and the number of times that phrase was repeated) and the narration keeps its flow and cadence. It does take a bit of practice, but I have been able to utilize it with some success and I have watched this same narrator record a ten minute narration with less than twenty minutes of studio recording time.
Just a thought.
Oh, absolutely. I talk about that in Reading Aloud 9: Things that Go Wrong and #5 Recording Tricks.
For me the thing that was interesting about this mistake is that I was dealing with two different styles of text from the same author. One which did not lend itself to being read out loud and one which did.
Ah, sorry. Gotta pay more attention, don’t I?
No worries. Those are good tips.
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