Writing like you talk

aside2When reading a professional author’s discussion thread, I noted that more than one person asserted the trick to creating a unique writer’s voice was “writing like you talk.” There is some truth to this. I tend to understate assertions, use long complex sentences, and employ subtle sarcasm. These characteristics keep popping up in my speech and writing. However, I meander more when talking, I trail off leaving sentences unfinished, and I repeat myself… a lot. You really do not want to read an article or book written like I talk.

However, I have noticed that some people, who find public speaking a breeze, do seem to write like they talk. Recently I was discussing a book written in this manner by a prominent news commentator. One of the people made an interesting observation. He said, “You can really hear him speaking as you read it, and this really slows you down” Now, I prefer reading to listening for the very reason that I can read about three times faster than I can listen (this is average for most people.) This led me to consider the complications of writing like you speak.

Most people tend to be more dramatic and less accurate when speaking. This allows them to be heard over competing voices. Like me, they repeat themselves frequently. They also fill their speech with meaningless phrases, such as “when you think about things,” because they are actually thinking about things as they are speaking. One of the biggest drawbacks to writing  in this manner is the increased word count for the amount of content. This may be at the root of my friend’s perception that “this really slows you down” when reading.

The use of “verbal jargon” also slows down the reader. These  current catch phrases and regional interjections set the tone for the text, but contribute little or nothing to the meaning. Now don’t get me wrong; tone is necessary in writing. Much of how we interpret what people say is by listening to their tone of voice. But there is no audible tone in writing.So writing requires greater clarity and economy of words to achieve the same impact as spoken words. Write like you speak, with lots of verbal jargon, you may be understood by your neighbor today. But remove the reader a few years, a few hundred miles, or a few rungs on the socioeconomic ladder, and it becomes harder work to read what you have written.

Occasionally, I enjoy reading books by authors who write in the vernacular, but I prefer to reading them in small doses. There is a reason that Mark Twain’s novels were published as serial installments in magazines. Small doses of writing with folksy regionalism made him popular with readers of his day, but he actually got his start as a lecturer, who made his living by talking. Today, many students  struggle to read an entire novel by Twain, especially when he was trying to imitate Old English speech, such as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. You must remember that the average student is better educated than many adults in Twain’s day.

So when you decide to write like you speak, recall when you sat in a conversation as the other person chattered assuming their choice of words made them sound cutting edge or quaint. Then, go back and edit your work until it is concise and flow easily. People may pay attention when you speak. After all that is polite and they expect you to listen to what they say, too. However, reading is a one way conversation and you’ll never know if they simply stopped reading your book.




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