Monday, December 28, 2015

Does it sound right?

In September 2015 the 85 year old novelist (or science fiction writer) Ursula K. Le Guin released the revised edition of her book Steering the Craft: a twenty-first century guide to sailing the sea of story. Chapter 1 is titled The sound of your writing. It opens with:

“The sound of the language is where it all begins. The test of a sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise words make, the sounds and silences that make the rhythms marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depends on these sounds and rhythms. This is just as true of prose as it is of poetry, though the sound effects of prose are usually subtle and always irregular.

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia,* they fall in love with musical or impressive words and use them in all the wrong places. Some writers keep this primal interest in and love for the sounds of language. Others ‘outgrow’ their oral/aural sense of what they’re reading or writing. That’s a dead loss. An awareness of what your own writing sounds like is an essential skill for a writer. Fortunately it’s quite easy to cultivate, to learn or reawaken.”

You can listen to an NPR Interview and read a longer excerpt.

Ivan Kramskoy’s painting came from Wikimedia Commons.

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