Monday, October 15, 2018

Shorter Sentences in Writing and Talking

“You can’t write like you talk,” is something I often say. Talking doesn’t have punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Talking isn’t always in full sentences. Talking and mind chatter can ramble and babble, sometimes seeming to go on and on. Writing is more formal. It follows rules.

Yes, I’ve talked about this before, but today I’m writing in a different context. Today I am thinking about what else an already-filled brain can take in.

My thoughts went to those who talk and talk until your eyes glaze over. Yes, I wonder how often I do that, too. Sometimes I can go off on an idea or story and don’t stop. It’s like I have so much on my mind, when I finally get a chance to talk to someone, the flood gates open. My mind certainly seems to talk non-stop. I have to often tell myself, “Stop!”

But when it comes to writing, we can’t just ramble on. It makes me realize how we see differently than we hear. Seeing words written can put them in a different context than hearing someone speak them. The spoken word gives us signals from the speaker. In reading, we only have our own thoughts, feelings, and knowledge to interpret the meaning or intent of the words.

What this has made me realize is that the brain needs pauses. If I ramble on and on in my speaking and the listener’s eyes is glazing over or he’s trying to get away, that’s a clue his brain needs a rest. It’s similar in writing if sentences are long and rambling. By the time the reader gets to the end of the sentence, he has forgotten the beginning or has lost the intent of the words.

As much as I love words, I’ll get bored and skip sections if: 1. A description goes on and on in one, long sentence. 2. If an entire paragraph is one long sentence. 3. I have to read a sentence more than once to understand what’s going on. (Yes, there are exceptions.)

This is giving me a greater appreciation of periods; ending one sentence to give the brain a brief rest before diving into the next sentence. It’s like stopping to take a breath when talking (and give the listener a chance to take in what you said). The period between sentences allows the reader a brief second to catch his mental breath, in a way. It’s a pause to let the brain assimilate the information it just took in.

It doesn’t matter what kind of reading we’re doing. Most of us aren’t writing college theses and we’re not out to prove to the world how smart we are. As a matter of fact, if we want people to understand our point of view, we have to make our writing easier for them to understand.

This is not saying people aren’t intelligent or can’t handle it. Part of it is because we all have so much on our minds nowadays, it’s hard to take in any new information. Plus, if we want people to enjoy the reading, we, the writers, have to make the reading enjoyable! That means writing to make the reading easier.

Maybe fiction writers are better at this. The fiction genre isn’t necessarily out to convince readers to the writer’s point of view. It’s those of us who write in nonfiction where we might be trying to prove a point or defend ourselves somehow. Those, too, trying to educate readers. In the telling of my stories, I’m always hoping that my words could possibly help someone else. Not that I’m telling anyone what to do or how to live their life. Just that, perhaps, something in my life I write about could trigger something in them to help them deal with a similar situation. (I sometimes take things I read from someone else and turn it around to make it a positive for me.)

And, maybe, here’s something to consider if you’re trying to get a point across: Think about how we learn. “See Spot run.” “Dick and Jane went to school.” We remembered this. No, we are no longer just learning to read, but if, as writers, we’re trying to teach or lead or help or provide valuable information, will someone learn from a long-winded dissertation or from sentences that seem to twist around until you don’t know whether or coming or going?

Did I just prove my point? Ha-ha. It’s something to think about. At least this is how my brain works nowadays. Information in short spurts.

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