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Monday, February 28, 2011

Sharing Your Work - Part Three - Prose Considerations

When you share an excerpt from your novel, or from a short story you have written, there are some things that you need to consider.  These should be fairly easy for the author since the prose piece the author's creation.  However, many authors do not think about these things, and how important they are to make an impact on the audience with whom they are sharing their work.  It could make the difference in whether or not members of the audience want to buy the authors work.
Most novels have a narrator to carry the story forward.  The narrator is very important when the selection is being presented orally.  The following are some things that should be considered:
1. The narrator should have a distinct personality that remains constant and consistent throughout the performance. The prose narrator should not be wooden or aloof, but should have genuine feelings and opinions.
2. The narrator should be played as the script requires: loudmouthed or soft, effusive or reticent, friendly or obnoxious, clever or dim-witted, articulate or inarticulate, educated or uneducated, easy-going or hyper, sincere or sinister, and so on.
3. The narrator should employ vocal variety whenever possible, but only if changes in pitch, volume, rate, stress, quality, phrasing, and the like are appropriate to, and consistent with the narrator’s personality and probable development.
— A third person narrator (a narrator who is not identified by name, and who is telling about the lives of others) can be given the most expressive vocal range because we do not know anything about his/her background. (Still, however, remember that the reader must endow this narrator with a personality and with the ability to express, in a personal and conversational way, the events that transpire in the script.)
4. The narrator should have an opinion or “ATTITUDE” about characters, actions, situations, places, things. This attitude or “SUBTEXT” should color or underpin the words the narrator uses. For example, if the narrator is telling the tale of how a very nice fellow (Jim) is ruined by a devious acquaintance (Bob,) the narrator would likely favor Jim and dislike Bob. Therefore, the narrator  would probably — say Bob’s name with distaste(because Bob is bad); — describe the unfortunate event that befalls Jim with a great deal of compassion (because Jim is a good guy); — describe Bob’s gloating over his nefarious deed with a certain anger or regret (because Bob deserves to be punished for what he did); — describe Jim’s attempt to bounce back from his defeat with hope and pride (because Jim is a good man who deserves a second chance and who should right a wrong).  To use another example: if the narrator is relaying Hal’s fascination with guns, the prose narrator might sound enthusiastic (if Hal is rightly fascinated,) disdainful (if Hal’s obsession is foolish,) or ironic (if Hal will accidentally blow his brains out.)
5. The narrator should communicate, in a very personal way, with the audience, taking them by the hand through the story, making sure they understand all the subtle clues that point to the personalities of characters and the development of plot.  The narrator gives the audience an “up front and personal insider’s view.”
6. Eye contact with each audience member should be meaningful and somewhat lengthy. Eye interest and expression should be used to send messages from the performer to the listener.
— One emotional phrase should be said to one person only. Careless bobbing of the head from script to audience as well as the bouncing of the head from person to person only undercuts the direst potent effect that each emotional statement can have. Consider this analogy: when a boxer throws a punch he winds up and follows through; were his fist to veer, the punch would not be fully felt by anyone. So to maximize the “punch” of an emotional phrase, play each to one person’s eyes, and let it lie for a second; then, either drop eyes to the script and immediately read, or move eyes to another and immediately talk.  This technique allows lines to be felt to the maximum.
7. The narrator should VISUALIZE salient imagery. In order for the audience to appreciate an image or anything that has sensory appeal (a breathtaking mountain-top, a horrendous car crash, a blinding sun,) the prose narrator must verbalize it (of course) and visualize it, that is, SEE what is described or remembered. For example, if the  is describing the blinding sun that caused the glare that caused his accident, the  should SEE the glaring sun (locate it again in our presence) and REACT to it with eyes and face (the way the  reacted to it in the past when the accident happened or the way the  would react, perhaps, if time has created an emotional distance—in the second case, the  would relive it less); then, the  should attempt to BRING THE AUDIENCE TO IT, directing their eyes to the image, checking to see if they are experiencing it. If the prose narrator sees, the audience also sees, and will therefore have a more immediately richer experience. Some visualization, however, should not be so laid out. During intense moments of recall, a performer’s face may freeze as his past runs through his/her mind’s eyes. In this case, the visualized truth is created through the use of subtle eye movement that sees, perhaps again, a tragic event that only the mind and not the body can display.
In Summary
The Prose Narrator Should:
1. Be a real person;
2. Have a definite and appropriate personality that is consistently maintained throughout the performance;
3. Make use of appropriate vocal variety.
4. Have consistent sub-textual attitudes about what happens to whom;
5. Communicate meaningfully and intimately with the audience, highlighting, for listener benefit, all important details and developments;
6. Utilize direct and intense eye contact with individual audience members, sending out messages with subtle eye expressions;
7. Visualize imagery, reliving with eyes and face the experiences that have left indelible impressions or painting new ones that are vibrant and ever present.
8. BE THINKING. Something is going on inside the narrator’s head as she or he tells the tale. Subtle movement of eyes and face, and vocal variety should indicate this.
Coming soon:  Considering the character in a presentation.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sharing Your Work - Part Two

Practicing and Performing Your Work

Preparation:  Read your selection aloud, and think about the meaning of the words you have written. Pay attention to each sentence and think about what images/feelings you are trying to convey. Underline the key word(s) in each sentence and think about ways to emphasize the word(s) when reading the passage. Imagery words should sound like the image they are describing.  If you were reading a sad passage, you would not want to have a jovial light sound in your voice.  If you are expressing anger, think about how much anger the character in the selection is feeling.  The rate, pitch and volume should reflect these things. 

Vocal contrast and body language is important: Think about varying your volume, rate, tone, and gestures at different points of the reading. Avoid monotone delivery.  Facial expressions, eye contact that is appropriate for the portion of the script you are presenting, gestures and body language should all reflect the emotions and the tone of the selection.  Knowing when, where and how to do these things will all help to make your delivery believable.  Make sure, before you begin that everyone in the audience can hear you.  Speak slowly enough that the audience can follow you.  Practice enunciation so that you say the words clearly and distinctly.  Gestures should not be overdone, but should be natural to the presenter.  Practice enough so that they flow, and are a part of you and the selection, not stilted and mechanical.

The places you mark in your script will help you practice and have a polished delivery. Do not forget marking pauses in your selection. These do not need to come at the end of a sentence, but rather at the end of a complete thought.  The length of pauses varies depending on their purpose.  You can compare their length to beats in music.  At the end of a complete thought, a slight pause is best (one beat), for a comma or semi-colon a little longer (one to two beats), and at the end of a sentence or for a dramatic pause in the selection about a three beat seems to be appropriate.

When reading poetry, read it for meaning not the form in which it is written.  If it has a heavy rhyme/rhythm scheme, be careful that your delivery does not get so caught up in it that the audience will not comprehend the underlying message the author intended.  We tend to lower our pitch at the end of a line…when we do we are giving is a vocal period; it is a verbal close to a sentence.  If there is no period, and the sentence is carried into the next line, keep the vocal pitch up, and place a pause where appropriate.

Energy Level:  Increase your energy level when speaking—this will boost your volume, make you appear to be more confident, and hold your audience’s interest for a longer period of time.  I can always gauge how much I have put into a reading by how tired I am after a performance.  Remember this is a performance, you want to bring your work alive!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sharing Your Work with an Audience

Sharing Your Work with an Audience

 “Standing and delivering” is a powerful way to present your work. However, it is perfectly fine to read, and to develop a personal style. The most important reason for reading your excerpts from your book is that performing is an affirmation. You are the author, take the plunge and go public—you will be surprised at how rewarding it can be.  In addition, presenting your work to the public orally, it will help the sales of your book if you learn to present it correctly. 

There is nothing like a reading performance that kindles something between the writer and the audience.  It is a special moment when the author is able to bring their work alive for the audience in such a way that they see or think of the work differently.  You will want to read the selection you have chosen in such a way that the audience will get a true feel for the meaning of the piece. There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for this kind of presentation.

Check for time limit.  You need to know how much time you have been given at this event.  Make sure edit your selection sufficiently to meet the time limit.   You will want to allow some of your time for a short introduction to get the audience ready to listen to the selection itself. 

Editing your work will not be easy because you feel that all of your writing is worthwhile, but you will have a stronger presentation if you limit yourself to the minimum time limit. Try to find the most important part and the section of the writing that might resonate with that particular audience. In addition, select a section that lends to being read aloud.  This means that there will many imagery words in that section.  It is also a good idea to select a section that you are comfortable reading aloud.

Know the selection. Knowing your material is the first step to preparing for the reading.  Once you have edited the content and are sure that you meet the time limits, read over the piece several times.

Manuscript Preparation. If you can, type your cutting from the selection in a large font and double space.  (I like to enlarge the font to at least a sixteen or eighteen point font so when I need to glance at the selection, I do not have to lower my head and lose eye contact with the audience. I number the pages so they are in order and will not get out of place.  I put my selection in a 3-ring binder that usually is black or grey.)  It is best to become so familiar with your selection that it is almost memorized so that when you can maintain the maximum amount of eye contact your audience, and you are able to find your place again when you look back at your manuscript.
(I also like to put my manuscript in sheet protectors because it makes turning the pages easier and it keeps the manuscript clean for more readings.)

Mark up your manuscript. Add notations—“slow down,” “pause,” “look up,” underline
keywords, etc.—to give yourself reminders about delivery. Having trouble with a word? Include a note about pronunciation. You can even include notations about time, indicating where you should be at each minute marker.