Literary Enunciation

If you have ever been in choir, or a speech class, or on stage, then you've probably been told to enunciate clearly. I don't think I ever asked any of my choir professors why I needed to enunciate - it was pretty self-evident. I needed to enunciate so that the audience would know what words I was singing. I could have the most beautiful voice in the world, but if I didn't enunciate, I would sound sloppy and unpleasant.

Enunciation isn't about me - it's about the people who are listening to me.


I believe that this translates very well into writing or any other form of storytelling: if your audience can't understand what it is you're trying to say, your work comes across as sloppy and unpleasant. In most cases, you don't want the audience to be confused and uncertain. If you're telling a mystery/thriller story, then that's the reaction you're trying to evoke - in that case, it's intentional.


I talked some about that word a few days ago - can you tell it's been on my mind recently?


This narrative enunciation (for lack of a better phrase) is merely the techniques by which you communicate a certain message to your audience as clearly as possible. If I'm trying to compose a symphony that's meant to communicate a feeling of hope to the audience, and instead my audience leaves feeling depressed or confused, then I've not enunciated clearly enough.


If I want to write a novel with the message "True friends will always be there to help you when you need them most," but the majority of my audience thinks the message was "Adults are stupid and will never help you with anything important" then I've been sloppy with my enunciation, or maybe I overstressed some elements of my story while glossing over others.


This is all about intentionality in storytelling. I need to ask myself, what does this scene, this dialogue, this transition, this game mechanic, this note progression - what does it communicate to my audience?


When the Sherman brothers were composing the songs for the Disney musical Mary Poppins, they needed to come up with a quintessentially "Poppins" song. One of them was inspired by something his son had said about taking medicine in a lump of sugar at school. Because just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The notes of the song needed to go UP on the word DOWN to communicate that Mary Poppins not only makes hard things more pleasant but she also does things in unexpected ways. That was Mary Poppins.


And that's the rule I want to apply to all of my writing. I don't just want to slap words on a page and expect my readers to catch my thoughts floating up off the paper. I want every line, every chapter heading, and every illustration to help them see what it is I'm getting at - even if they don't agree.


Now, that isn't to say I have the right to tell them I AM THE AUTHOR AND THIS IS ALL THIS WORK CAN OR EVER WILL SAY, so much as I want the message I intended to be visible. I dislike Death of the Author theory, and much prefer something more like a middle ground. My art cannot be looked at in a vacuum, but I can't tell you what it means, either. That's for you to decide. Because if it's worth believing in, it doesn't matter if it's true. - Hubb McCann (Second Hand Lions)

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