Write Like You Talk

Beginning writers are generally advised to “write like you talk.” Stories about personal experience generally come across best when you write in a conversational tone, like you are talking with a close friend. This isn’t always easy to do. Words flow out of our mouths without a lot of conscious thought, so trying to match the precise wording that we use orally can be a challenge.

Some people use sentence fragments in writing, for example “Never walked alone at night after that!” and claim
that’s how I talk.” I’ve listened closely to those people, and aside from idioms like could be,never once have I heard them use a sentence lacking a subject. Now and then people let sentences trail off without finishing them, but I have yet to see anyone write such a sentence in a story.

I see two things happening here. First, avoiding the use of “I” is typical of the way people write in letters. I do it myself in e-mail. It may not sound egotistical in speech to repeatedly say “I,” but it begins to look egotistical in writing. Beyond that, most of these sentence fragments are continuations of the previous sentence, and a comma would be more appropriate than a period.

What’s the prescription? This is a matter of personal preference. It is definitely not wrong to use sentence fragments, as long as the meaning is clear. But if you truly want to write like you sound, this is not the way to do it. I almost guarantee that you do not use incomplete sentences when you talk.

Before I consider any story finished, I read it aloud. It's rare that I read a story the first time through without finding my tongue saying one thing while the words say another. I let my tongue be the judge. Reading aloud works for me, but not for everyone. If you do find incomplete sentences, try attaching them to the previous sentence, adding a subject, or rewording them to place the missing “I” some other place in the sentence.

Not everyone is concerned enough to spend much time on the craft of writing, and it’s just fine if you aren’t one of them. It may be time here to repeat one of my favorite sayings:

Any story you write is
better than writing nothing.

If you do feel the urge to polish your prose, try reading your work aloud, but also have someone who knows you well read a few stories and tell you frankly whether they truly are written like you talk. The combination of these two feedback channels will fine tune your ears and fingers.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott

1 comment :

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