April 10, 2013

The Bellows – A Necessary Tool for Writers

Gustave Flaubert
Getting ready to record the audio version of my book, I regularly find myself reading my book out loud a little each day now. And lo and behold, despite having sent my manuscript (after many revisions of my own) to a professional editor, I’m noticing a few things here and there that I want to change—all details, mind you, but the story’s in the details, eh? (And I’m leaning more and more towards hiring someone to read it for me as my renderings of the Southern American and the Russian accents is quite atrocious!).

And this reminded me of a fact a French teacher of mine once told the class about famous author
Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert is known for his beautiful and variegated prose (think Madame Bovary). If anyone’s seen his original manuscripts, one will notice such art didn’t come easily but was rather the product of many rewrites and the use of his Gueuloir (aka Bellows).
Page from one of Flaubert's manuscripts

Flaubert used his Gueuloir to not just read his writing out loud, but to bellow it out!

“Les phrases mal écrites ne résistent pas à cette épreuve; elles oppressent la poitrine, gênent les
battements de coeur et se trouvent ainsi en dehors des conditions de la vie.”(1)

Yelling thus set his lungs to fire, but also allowed him to pinpoint any place in his text that didn’t sound right or flow properly.

Though I’m not necessarily saying to imitate him entirely in this matter (though I find the idea very
tempting as a payback for my upstairs neighbors regularly waking me up in the wee hours of the
morning), I do think reading your stories out loud will help you improve your writing.

Really, you should trust your musical ear!




(1) The poorly-written sentences do not resist this ordeal; they oppress the chest, disturb the heartbeat
and find themselves thus outside of the condition of life.

Source:
Le Gueuloir de Flaubert

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