Listening Hard to Write Well

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

The acclaimed writer Eudora Welty once noted that “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”

Wow. There’s so much for a writer to unpack in this brief but profound observation. How many times have I rushed headlong into drafting a novel without taking time to listen for the real story—the story behind the story?

Welty wrote often about characters who were not listened to, but of course, that is entirely different from listening for the emotional beats that drive a story forward; the unspoken longings that define characters in a subterranean way; and source material that may come from anywhere and everywhere.

Welty had a way of boiling down the power of listening to a primal force: “Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

. . . .

I think there’s a strong case to add listening to the common list of five senses—hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. After all, the senses are the building blocks of fiction. Even in the most far-out, world-building sci-fi novels, the writer still grounds the reader in her senses, whether it’s the cold blackness of space or the terrifying grip of alien tentacles.

As Madeleine L’Engle wrote, rather cryptically, but with a nod to the all-encompassing nature of listening well, “We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.”

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books