Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How Audible Books Can Help Your Writing

A few months ago I decided to take Audible Books up on their free book promotion and downloaded my first Book. I walk quite a bit, including to and from the train when commuting, which means I have a lot of iPod time on my hands. So I figured listening to a book could be a good change of pace.

Now I'm totally hooked. Not only is it more entertaining than my exhausted iTunes playlist or the iterative loop that is Pandora, but I've found that listening to books has also helped inspire my writing.

Here are a few ways that Audible Books can help you become a better writer:

1. More time to read.

If you're like me, it's all you can do to cram in a little reading between work, life and writing. I've found that by leveraging idle time in my day I'm able to squeeze in more books than before.  Which leads me to my next point...

2. Expand your genres.

You should always read within the genre you write so you're up-to-date on current trends and understand what works/doesn't work for that category. BUT you should also expand your horizons to include other genres outside your writing sphere for external inspiration. This is tricky when you have limited reading time, but if you add audio books to the mix you can check out more books, and thus more genres. I now try to read one YA book in my genre, while simultaneously listening to something in an outside genre. My current reading combo?  I'm listening to Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects and reading Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us. Both fantastic.

Another writing friend suggested using audible to listen to books on craft. That way you can continue to read fiction for enjoyment while also cramming in some writing lessons. How's that for multitasking?

3. Understand how speech tags can work for and against you.

With the exception of multiple POV stories, the books are read by one single person. So unless the reader has a penchant for character voices, dialogue between characters can be tricky to track when not properly tagged. Similarly, it gets incredibly annoying to have to listen to the actor say, "I said" "He said" etc with too much frequency. Listening to the story out loud can help you understand when to use dialogue tags, and what types of tags work best for keeping the action flowing without over doing it.

4. Tone and setting.

The other day I was listening to a pretty spooky murder scene on my way to work. It was 70 outside, the sun was shining, and yet I was totally and completely creeped the #&@% out. Now that's a sign that the author has done a phenomenal job developing the tone and the setting for their story. There is much to be learned from a writer who can turn a sunny California day into a spine-tingling is-someone-following-me moment. Listen to the way the reader and author build the story setting, and see how you can emulate that skill in your own works.

5. Voices make all the difference.

It's amazing what a difference the actor reading the book can make. I've listened to some books that are phenomenally well read, and some that are just meh. The strong readers/actors can ramp up tension, demonstrate emotion and show how the character feels simply by using the inflection of their voice.  Which is pretty intense when you consider the fact that they don't have facial expressions to help them convey everything - it's all done via audio and words. Take note of those moments when the actor changes something in their voice, and how that impacts the story's trajectory.  How can you use words to describe these subtle changes, so you can be sure readers  will "hear" the same thing in their heads?

In case you're curious, here are a few of my favorite "reads" so far:

The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
Where'd You Go Bernadette (Maria Semple)
The Gold Finch (be warned: it's a looog book which means many hours of listening. But it's good!)
Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)
The Next Best Thing (Jennifer Weiner)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (Mindy Kaling)

Do you listen to Audible books?  If so, what are some of your favorites (I'm in the market for my next one.)

And here's the promo I used for that first free book:


  1. Here are my favorites so far! I do most of my books this way, I don't have much time for reading, but I have a commute!

    Yes, Please (Amy Poehler reads it herself!)
    The Cuckoo's Calling & The Silkworm
    All of Khaled Hosseini's books, he also reads a lot of the material and I love his voice
    The Pillars of the Earth and the sequel, both veeeery long though

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