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Writing Fiction by Dictation

by Ron Kurtus (revised 2 March 2012)

Most fiction writers document their material in longhand or on the computer. But if you are good at verbalizing your thoughts or story-telling, you may consider using dictation as a method to write your stories.

Recent advances in speech recognition software makes this a viable choice. You can even dictate into a digital recorder and have the software transcribe it later.

If you plan to dictate your story material, you need to make some preparations, so that you have an idea of what part of the story you will dictate.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



If good at verbalizing

People have different ways of thinking and expressing their thoughts. Some can easily visualize what they want to say and put those pictures into words on paper, while those that think in terms of sounds and can easily explain their ideas verbally. There are some people who are extreme in only one style of thinking. Most of us work in both modes but have a preference of one over the other.

If you tend to speak to yourself while writing, you may be considered an auditory thinker. You can explain your ideas verbally but sometimes struggle to put those thoughts on paper. If you prefer to work in this mode, dictation methods may be a solution for writing your stories.

If you can visualize what you want to say, you are probably best at expressing your thoughts on a word processor or by writing in longhand. It may not be that easy for a visual thinker to write by dictation, although it might be worth a try.

Equipment used

You can either dictate your story into a tape recorder, while at your computer using speech recognition software, or dictate into a digital recorder and have the material transcribed later.

Dictating into tape recorder

You can dictate parts of your story into a tape recorder. This allows you the flexibility to input thoughts and ideas as they pop in your mind, as well as to dictate parts of your story while away from the computer.

After the material has been recorded, you can play it back and transcribe it yourself or hire someone to do the transcribing.

Writer Earle Stanley Gardner, who originated and wrote the Perry Mason series of books, dictated a major portion of his material. The story goes to that Gardner originally wrote his stories on a manual typewriter until his fingers bled. Seeking a better method, he turned to dictating the stories into a tape recorder and having secretaries transcribe the material into print. At one time he had nine secretaries transcribing at one time. He was a very prolific writer.

Using a tape recorder is somewhat outdated. If you need to hire transcribers, it probably would be less expensive in the long run to purchase an appropriate digital recorder and speech recognition software.

Dictate to computer

Speech recognition or speech-to-text software has improved dramatically in the past few years. You can now sit by your computer, speak into a microphone and have your words accurately transcribed into text. If something doesn't look right, you can easily delete it with a verbal command and start over.

Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the top speech recognition application. They have versions ranging from Standard to Professional, depending on the features needed. You can buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Standard for about $50.

Dictating into digital recorder

Some digital recorders are compatible with speech recognition software, such that you can convert your recording into text automatically. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Preferred at $98 is required to transcribe audio from a digital recorder into text. It accepts MP3 and WMA audio file types.

I use an Olympus WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder that can be purchased for about $79. The recorder is very compact and can double as a music player. If you want more music playing capabilities, you can buy the 1 GB version, which of course costs more. The nice thing about this recorder is that you can directly plug it into your computer's USB port to download your audio files. No extra software is required to put the audio files onto your hard drive.

Once your dictation file is on your hard drive, you select it from Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and the program transcribes your story material in Word or other word processor. The software even has a playback feature that will read your text back to you.

Preparation required

Before dictating your story material, you need to prepare for the dictation session. You should know about how much of the story you plan to tell, as well as having at least a rough idea of the plot or action in that section. It might be a good idea to write out what you plan to dictate, just as you might sketch out what you plan to write about.

You typically dictate a specific section of your story at a time. Although possible, it is unlikely that you would dictate a full chapter in one sitting.

Since a fictional story usually includes descriptions of surroundings, dialog and even the characters' thoughts, you can easily become engrossed in the story and even act out the dialog during the dictation.

Summary

If you are good at verbalizing your thoughts or story-telling, you may consider using dictation as a method to write your stories. Speech recognition or speech-to-text software makes this a viable choice. You can even dictate into a digital recorder and have the software transcribe it later. You need prepare before dictation and have an idea of what part of the story you will dictate. Some fiction writers can get engrossed in acting out their story during a dictation session.


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Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Fiction Resources

Products

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 12.0 - Available from Amazon.com for about $50

Olympus WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder - Available from Amazon.com for about $79

Books

Top-rated books on Fiction Writing


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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