Yesterday was a day of traveling, and today I’m pretty wiped out (we didn’t get home until late). But I was reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on the plane, and something interesting occurred to me.
Universal literacy (or anything close to it) has only been a goal for the last couple hundred years, if that. Previously, and certainly before the printing press, books were scarce and so were the people who could read them. Reading out loud to an audience was a fairly normal activity in a lot of households, and stories were composed with the intention of being read out loud.
And we, the reading public, are coming back to this idea. For a long time, reading was a silent, private activity, but now audio books are becoming a thing, and changing the way people consume stories.
Full disclosure: I rarely listen to audio books. I can read faster than the narrator can talk, and I like to go back and look at details that I might have missed on the first read-through. It’s possible to rewind an audio book, but it takes a little bit of work and I’m lazy.
Even if I don’t listen to audio books, other people do, and as a writer, I can see a market for them. A growing market, which leads me to make a prediction: In the future, we’ll see a rise in poetry and other works purposely written to be made into audio books. Writing styles will change to accommodate this, though I still think traditional written prose will continue to be a large section of a writer’s product.
When I floated this idea to my Better Half, he pointed out that The Canterbury Tales, which have a rhyming style, seem childish to us, because most Western adults grew up listening to nursery rhymes and songs. This is true, but not all epic poetry has to rhyme. It has to have rhythm, and be easily spoken. Repeated phrases are common in some epics, like the ‘wine-dark sea’ in the Odyssey or Helen ‘of the white arms’ in the Iliad. These techniques were useful when the poet had to remember thousands of lines, and may or may not still be used in writing audio books. They’re familiar to readers, especially classically educated ones, but the impetus of using them as a memory aid isn’t as necessary nowadays. And repetitive phrases are more obvious in audio than in print.
Audio books tend to be faster paced and shorter than written ones, and most audio book readers are commuters, so I foresee a market for books that can be listened to in set amounts of time- half an hour to an hour. As a writer, you want your readers to get to their destination and have to wait in their cars for a few minutes until the story/chapter/scene is over, but making your reader late to work might not be such a good thing. Short stories and poetry are ideal in that case.
This is a time of tremendous upheaval in the writing world, and I’m very curious to see how things change in the next decade or so, and how non-traditional media factors in to that.
But in the meantime, I need to unpack and make sure there’s food in the house. Talk among yourselves- do you prefer audio or written books? Have you produced books specifically for audio? Does your writing style change when you have audio in mind? What tips would you give to a curious but clueless author trying to get into the market?