I was at Polaris this last weekend, and while the literary track was rather light, I did manage to take in one reading by David Nickle and his upcoming Eutopia from CZP (I’m unsure of the release date). Now, anyone who knows me, knows that sometimes I have a tendency to…drift. I have selective ADD. Back in University I thought I had mono because I simply couldn’t stay awake in class. I’d get there (just in time, of course) all ready to explore new concepts, to be wowed by the expertise….yawn…of the professor….so very tired…who had studied…clunk (that’s my head hitting the desk). Sadly, listening to book readings is normally the same. Books aren’t meant to be read aloud (well, not normally) just like movies aren’t meant to be read (screenplays).
There are exceptions. Rob Sawyer does a wonderful job, but he has a background in broadcasting and he’s done a gazillion of them, I’m sure (and not to say he hasn’t also stumbled in his early days…but it’s hard to compare a veteran with a new(er) writer). Robert Sawyer also keeps his readings short, then takes questions. But most times, there’s a reason we’re writers and not actors — because we suck. Yes, I’m lumping myself in with that. My listening abilities extend to five minutes. Five minutes and I start to check out (wow, look, a bird).
Yet David Nickle read for a half hour. I didn’t tune out once. A half hour? Why, he must have been a performer and a half! Did he have strippers with him (sadly, no)? Props? Nothing, he just read. His delivery was nice, of course. Inflection, pacing, etc, etc but he wouldnt’ be mistaken for a Shakespearean actor.
The first reading I heard of his was for his Flash story: The Mayor Will Make A Brief Statement and then Take Questions. I assumed it was successful because it was short. He read the entire thing. But then he read the opening chapter of his upcoming novel. It worked very well too.
So why did it work? Well, simple: characters. He picked a scene where we were dropped instantly into the main character’s head. Too many writers (myself included) pick action scenes (because isn’t that what movie trailers do?) but actions without context is just a movie called Transformers.
Just like being immersed when we read for ourselves, his public reading did two things: it put us directly into a character’s POV, and then gave that character a problem (he was going to be lynched!). There wasn’t extraneous exposition or back story. Almost everything we needed to know about the character was given by actions and the way people reacted to him.
It also worked well because the chapter could’ve been a short story. Character, obstacle, solution, more questions.
So…what did I learn for myself? Aside from the structure, if I can’t find the perfect passage (unlike David Nickle, I won’t be given a half hour…nor would I want to), I’m going to cheat and make the perfect structure. Cut out extraneous exposition and back story (which, while important with a novel, really aren’t with a public reading).
Sounds easy. Done! Now all I need is a book…of mine…to read aloud. Hmmm, that could be the hard part.