Does the ear make the writer?

Audiobook-Logo-White-2-No-BIn Letters of Ted Hughes, the English poet and children’s writer, husband of Sylvia Plath, offered advice to his daughter Frieda in a letter about the importance of reading aloud – “Read every sentence as a separate music speech unit – advice which he subsequently explains he himself received from T.S. Eliot:

T.S. Eliot said to me ‘There’s only one way a poet can develop his actual writing – apart from self-criticism & continual practice. And that is by reading other poetry aloud – and it doesn’t matter whether he understands it or not (i.e. even if it’s in another language.) What matters above all, is educating the ear.'”

Then Hughes continues, “What matters, is to connect your own voice with an infinite range of verbal cadences & sequences – and only endless actual experience of your ear can store all that in your nervous system. The rest can be left to your life & your character.”

Although he was referring specifically to poetry, Hughes was also a “supremely original writer of imaginative and critical prose.” Is it reasonable then that the same is true of the writer of narrative prose? Does reading aloud also help develop a writer’s Storytelling? And if the experience of the narrative writer’s ear, as they read aloud, contributes to the development of their skill as a writer, then is this where the oral and literary traditions intersect? There in the nervous system of the writer? Is it that “infinite range of verbal cadences & sequences” that culminates in a narrative voice telling a story that the writer hears and then records for consumption by the eye? And does the reader then hear that same voice? Is the reader’s satisfaction directly related to the fluency and clarity of that narrative voice? Who might answer these questions? J.K. Rowling? George R. R. Martin? Hemingway? Shakespeare? The New York Times book critics?

So then, when a Story is read aloud, is the listener’s enjoyment and satisfaction directly related to the reader’s ability to find and channel that same narrative “voice?” Writers and audiobook narrators want to know. My money is on yes.