From Cave Painting to Oral Storytelling to Pen to Keyboard to…Oral Storytelling?

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Old, leather books with worn spines are a backdrop for a black feather quill in a thin, crystal ink well with no ink.

Quill & Books by aurostar739 CC 3.0 flickr.com/photos/rachel_wildphotography/6304059957

In high school I swore that I could only create long hand…that typing was just for corrections. In college I made the clunky transition to writing on the computer. At the time it seemed that every other writing article or author-interview question tackled which was better or more natural. Which way of writing was more real.

Did people go from cave painting to telling stories around the campfire with as much angst? Did oral storytellers bemoan losing a connection with the audience and fluidity of the story once people started committing pen to paper? Probably. But I think these groups of writers (in the largest sense of the word) had more valid complaints than battle between pen and keyboard. Those mediums changed storytelling in a fundamental way. Going from pictures to words changed the story from interpretation to telling, and going from something oral and ever-changing to something that, hundreds of years later, we can point to and say this is the one and only way it should be gives us a very different idea of what a story should be. The pen v keyboard debate boils down to the personal preference of the creator, but doesn’t change the story itself or how readers interact with it.

What is the next evolution of writing? In this TechCrunch article, Jordan Crook wonders about a future without keyboards. I shiver at the thought.

I’ve heard of (but never witnessed) people using speech-to-text programs to talk out their story, and in Ken Levine’s blog (check out my blogroll) he mentions that he and his writing partner would dictate to someone else.

I’ve always enjoyed the thought of walking around, spouting beautiful prose, but the way I write is much less free. Scratch that, the way I edit is much less free. I can vomit out some pretty bad prose, but then I stare at a word or skip around, reading a paragraph here and a paragraph there. I’ll change a word in a sentence, read the sentence again, change the word back, reread it, change the word again… I suppose I can see myself writing by talking, but not editing. So, that means I can’t fathom a keyboard-less future.

But let’s say we do go keyboard-less, does that change the storytelling or just how the tellers tell it?

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6 thoughts on “From Cave Painting to Oral Storytelling to Pen to Keyboard to…Oral Storytelling?

  1. bethfinke

    Many people have suggested I use an app that allows you to say a text or tweet or FB update into your phone and, shazham – your friends see it as text on their phone screens.
    My response to this idea: why not just leave a voice mail?
    Seems to me that all the people using quips on twitter and FB are already writing their stories in a conversational tone. Speech to text won’t be a difficult transition for them, but it would for me. I love the way writing longhand or on a keyboard gives me time to think.

    • Good point about the conversational tone. It may be easier for them…but how hard did they work to create that conversational tone. I often edit my Facebook and Twitter posts before letting them loose on the world. Of course, that could just be me.

  2. Dictate the initial rough draft ? Sure. It’s a pretty rough story most of the time, anyway.

    Editing ? Well. Transcription and pen work will still rule. I’ll assert that an “author” with 30 or so novels under the belt is much more efficient in the first rough out than we mere “writers.” I’d also think the only saving there is that the edit work is less involved with fewer of those big block changes we write.

    Of course, creating a novel though transcription software requires the discipline to speak in the version of standard written English we use in print. I suspect that is a task we do inherently when we physically write and do much less well when we dictate a story.

    With some experience, I suspect we can learn to do effective voice directed editing. I wouldn’t think the outcome on the story would be significantly different. Well written prose would endure and pulp would still be pulp. The lifespan of the average bestseller would still be less than that of a cat.

    • I have never thought of book lifespans compared to cats before…but it works.

      I suppose you’re right, that this is something we can learn to do. I’ll probably do a lot of kicking and screaming, though.

  3. Kim

    For several years, I used Dragon Dictate, a program that allows you to speak and, voila, your computer types your words. It wasn’t laziness, but loss of the use of one hand that “forced” Dragon dictation upon me. There were technical glitches, most of them because I have a Southern accent (plus the fire-breathing Dragon didn’t like me.) To erase a word, I’d say “Scratch That.” The Dragon would type “tractor.” I’d re-pronounce “Scratch That,” enunciating in every possible way. Still the wrong word would remain, along with a screen full of “scratch that’s.” To start a new paragraph, I’d say, “New Paragraph.” The Dragon interpreted that as “Ronald Reagan” (I think the program was written by a Republican.) Over time, with tons of P.T., I regained some use of my hand. On bad days, I type left handed rather than wrestle the Dragon. Screaming obscenities at my computer definitely interrupts the flow! I’d rather type slowly than be mad at a fire breathing Dragon.

    • You’ve done it?! Wow.

      I snorted my drink out my nose at New Paragraph/Ronald Reagan.

      I’m glad the PT is working…not being able to write in the way that suits you best must have been/be incredibly frustrating.

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