Sunday, October 25, 2015

You Can’t Write Like You Talk

Writing is not the same as speaking. I say this often. When talking, the mind is trying to come up with words in the moment to convey the point of view while the mouth has to speak the words. Sometimes the flow is smooth, but often it is not. The mind works quicker than the tongue which can cause people to babble a bit as the mouth tries to catch up with the brain. 

Think about it. Think about the way you talk and the way those around you speak. Think about those you are able to carry on good conversations with and those who can drive you a bit crazy. (Not that they are bad people. It’s all in how one person speaks and another hears.) We all have our… ways. We may all speak the same language, but the understanding of how something is said could be totally different than what the speaker meant. 

It is also important to note that when speaking, the mind can be jumping all over the place. Words jumble around each other. Some things slip off the tongue easily while other thoughts are hard to put into words. Look how easy it is to misunderstand. Words are repeated, blank seconds are filled with “er” or “um” as the mind tries to find the correct words to get the point across. 

What does this have to do with writing? 

People don’t speak in full English-grammar-correct sentences. They tend to ramble, use idioms or phrases that do not translate well to the written page and some people repeat themselves, sometimes a lot. There are nuances in the spoken word that is hard to incorporate in the written word. 

Writing needs to be precise. Writing has… stricter, much stricter… rules. And there are rules for the type of writing being done. There is sentence structure and proper grammar and punctuation. What can be picked up in tone and body language from a speaker needs to be translated and described with words and again, depending on what’s being written, can you assume from that body language and tone or do you need to stick to the facts. 

As a writer, I have to be constantly on my toes depending on what I am doing. My daily journaling is open and I can use any style, though I try to follow rules to stay sharp. Working on a book takes a different mindset than writing articles or editing for the newspaper as does writing poetry. 

But even the book work has its variations. Writing from a personal point of view can be looser than recording information on historical facts. Newspaper work follows the AP style and there are certain formats to be adhered to that are different if following the “Chicago Manual of Style” (sometimes referred to as CMOS). 

Dialogue has its own spin. Writing dialogue can’t be put down on the page exactly as someone speaks. There is so much more to the spoken word that a reader would find boring, confusing, or too much to get through, etc. Plus, words cost money in the written world. How can you say what the speaker needs to say using fewer words? The dialogue needs to be catchy to the reader and draw the reader in to the character and the story.

Another side is, especially with newspaper reporting or doing interviews, is the all-important quote. When choosing to quote a speaker, strong statements or a sentence or two makes the point stand out and is exactly what was said. From there, the writer, in his own words, can take other comments and elaborate on the speaker’s point of view. This will enable the writer to choose the important words and not use the unnecessary words and sounds that a speaker will use while trying to get their comments out.

If a writer were to totally type out a complete spoken dialogue, the sentences would run together, there might not be full sentences and where would the punctuation go? Subjects are missing, verbs are misconstrued and thoughts can trail off... (which I tend to do which entails ellipses which are not conducive to good writing – and here is an example of repeated words). 

I am learning all the time with the newspaper business. Plus, for my own processing, I need to break things down and figure out why a rule is in place. I need to understand the why and sometimes it can take many go-‘rounds before I get it. Of course, this is just one tiny segment.

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