A Writer’s Notebook: Spoken word video

A video is a strange thing to include in a Writer’s Notebook, at least in the sense that I couldn’t have written this in my little brown notebook with the unlined paper. But the purpose of the online Notebook is simply to create, and I’ll use whatever medium works. So bear with me, and I’ll explain the process below.

“How Long My Bruises Will Last,” originally published in Tonopah Review (Jan 2009).

This isn’t so much an exercise in creating or even revising fiction as it is an exercise in hearing fiction.

However far removed many of us might be from our spoken-word literary past, language retains an orality we cannot ignore.  We can work and sweat and weep and scratch out and rewrite our sentences and paragraphs all we want, but unless they sound right, the work will always feel off.  Poets still know this, cultures which have retained their esteem for the spoken word still know this, hip-hop artists and singers know this.  Watch the movie Love Jones.  Attend a poetry reading.  Listen to a street rapper.  Look up videos online of poetry slam performances.  And when people speak, close your eyes.  Listen.  Experience the words.

None of this has anything to do with the mechanical voice of this digital puppet, of course.  His voice is flat and electronic and utterly devoid of genuine emotion.  But there’s something about that quality which seems to work for this story.  The narrator here isn’t emotionless at all, but he is perhaps a bit cathartic, and the world he occupies isn’t as black-and-white as he might once have thought (I chose the monotonal, almost 2D figure and background for exactly this reason), so maybe there’s something beneficial about having him “read” this story.

(I do lament the reading of the last line, which, when I read this story aloud, never rises in tone.  It doesn’t drop in tone, because the ending isn’t a downer, but I like to end on a voice that connotes fact rather than emotion or opinion.  The rising tone this computer guy gives that line comes off too editorially optimistic, I think.)

Anyway, I’ve been tinkering with this Xtranormal video software for a few months now, after watching (and posting) a video about education and the Humanities, because I kept thinking about what a computer voice might bring to–or take away from–a reading of literature.  I’ve been thinking about this, really, since I first discovered the voice feature on an old Mac, and I was briefly obsessed with it after I first heard “Fitter Happier” on Radiohead’s OK Computer.  But this video software adds a visual element that makes the “reading” feel more like a reading, as though you’re in a room with this guy. So, here we are.

I tried another video reading poetry, which I think sounds better, but my own focus is on fiction, so for this post I wanted to do one of my own short stories.  But I really do prefer the poetry, and if you decide to try this out for yourself, send me the link–I’d love to hear it!

Want an exercise related to orality and writing without the complicated video software?  Check out this great little post on “Finding Your Voice: Reading Aloud,” over at Insert Literary Name Blog Here.

To read the text of this story, go to the story in Tonopah Review.  To find more of my work, check out my Publications page.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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