Monday, September 17, 2012

Do you hear words when you read?

You'll be reading this when I'm out of town, visiting my daughter. She's the one who prompted these thoughts, though.

We had a discussion at least a year ago, maybe more, on contractions. I was saying that, of course, one writes a lot of contractions in dialog because that's how people speak. The more casual and regional the speech, the more contractions, at least for Texas-speak. My daughter replied that contractions slow her down when she reads.

Huh? I asked how that happened. Turns out, she doesn't actually hear the words as she reads. She reads super fast and is capable of reading a whole novel in a sitting, if it isn't extra long. She quickly scans the pages and takes in the meaning, but doesn't feel any rhythms.

I'm exactly the opposite. I read my stuff out loud as I'm writing it. Sort of like reciting it to my fingers on the keyboard. In fact, when I read books by Garrison Keillor, it takes me forever. I know how slowly he talks, delivering his Prairie Home Companion monologs, and I hear his writing in his voice.

I must say, I was astonished to learn this. I thought everyone heard the words and the rhythms. Not so! The only way I can write is to the rhythm, so that won't change, but I appreciate that not everyone will care whether my sentences have cadence or not. Some of them might be slowed down by my dialog.


  1. Wow, that's me too - I hear words as I read them. Some words come with very specific accents that aren't mine, some I hear as "incorrect"(not quite the way they're really said). I also find certain punctuation (eg single vs double quotation marks) and type of font also affect the way the words "sound" in my head.
    I thought this was everyone too.

  2. I thought for a moment that I hear the words because of my musical background, but that can't be it because my daughter and I are both musicians. She's just a speed-reader and I'm not, I guess.

  3. I guess I knew that some people didn't hear the words in their heads when they read, but I always have. I would love someone to do a study on this. My bet would be that most writers hear them, reading and writing. Except those who are strict with themselves about following the "rules." Some of the rules I found make the writing lack rhythm, and I can't get into it. This is particularly true of some (not all) of the hardboiled stories and some male writers. I even hear the words when reading nonfiction.

  4. I don't think all writers do, and you can tell by the writing. Not that it's a bad thing, just different. Writers--and readers--concentrate on different things, I think.