Monday, August 17, 2020

Your Best Writing May Not Be What You Think

 By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

One of the biggest writing problems I see among people in my mentoring program, and others who hire me to improve their writing, is that they're afraid to write like they talk. Perhaps they fear “wordiness”, but sometimes writing like you talk is less wordy.

For instance, they never use one-word sentences. Or fragments. Those, for sure, are not wordy!

They refuse to start sentences with words such as "and" and "but" because an elementary teacher way back when told them not to.

They try to sound important when they write. So they use long words in long sentences that make up long paragraphs.

They remove all slang from their writing so it's clean and pure. And often, boring.

Business coach Michael Angier agrees.

"Too many times, I see people who are good verbal communicators try to put
on a different air in their writing," he says. "It doesn't work. It's much
better to be conversational."

Writing like you talk is one of thirteen tips Michael offers for writing clearly and convincingly. It was one of the lead articles in an issue of Joan Stewart’s free subscription newsletter, The Publicity Hound.

Lisa Cron’s book, Wired for Story (http://bit.ly/Wired4Story), shows us how humans were storytellers long before they were writers and how the processes in their lives wired us for story. Story and anecdote. It works for articles like this. It works for novels—great novels. And you’ll see it appearing more and more often as part of news stories. Another book I recommend is Tom Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue (http://bit.ly/Chiarella) published by Writer’s Digest. You may find it inexpensively on Amazon’s New and Used feature.

In the newest book in my multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writing, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically, I remind authors that the best blurbs and endorsements come from people who compliment their books and their style in off-the-cuff conversations. When asked to write a blurb or endorsement, the same people may use language that is stiff, official—and unconvincing. I tell them to ask their contacts (or reader) if they can use what their reader just said to them rather than having them back up and make it into a brittle, lifeless twig.

And in the second edition of my Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips, to be released September 1 and now in pre-sale mode on Amazon, I talk about how fear of breaking grammar rules (that often, by the way, aren’t really “rules” at all!) leads to unnatural dialogue. This little book also contains some of the word trippers I see most frequently in my clients’ work, and that is where there is no room wiggle room for making the wrong choice.

Readers probably spent many years reading staid textbooks. They may now prefer to learn what they need quickly. When authors make their point with stories (and do it colloquially), they find their readers more easily bond to them. It’s about connection. Think loyalty.

Have you ever wondered why many are turning to the Web for information even at the risk of fake news and unprofessional advice. They are in a hurry. They’re after easily absorbed information (retention). You can provide both. Sure. Watch for wordiness. But don’t skip the story your readers’ brains crave. They’ll love you for it. 

 

About the Author

Carolyn Howard-Johnson writes fiction, poetry; and the #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the award-winning third edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The multi award-winning second edition of The Frugal Editor; . and the second edition of The Great First Impression Book Proposal. The newest in the series is the second edition of her Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers. Her blog  TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, lets authors recycle their favorite reviews absolutely free. Find submission guidelines in a tab at the top of the home page.

 

Thank you, Carolyn! If you ever get a chance to meet her in person, do it.

Now, what do you think, readers?

38 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Such a good point. Dialogue needs to be natural...there's nothing quite as awful as wooden dialogue! Great tips here, Carolyn.

Jemi Fraser said...

Excellent point! As a teacher, I've probably said, "Your writing should sound like you, not an encyclopedia!" a million times!! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Indeed dialogue and writing in general needs to be natural. You don't want people reading something and wondering who talks like that?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thank you again, Carolyn!

Jacqui Murray said...

Good points. I count myself among those dissuaded to write in more conversational ways. I enjoyed this post.

Luiz Gomes said...

Good afternoon, how are you? I'm Brazilian and I'm looking for new followers for my blogspot and I will also follow you for sure. New friends are also welcome.

https://viagenspelobrasilerio.blogspot.com/?m=1

nashvillecats2 said...

As I write poetry on my life's experiences I do tend to write as I think it's the only way I know how to write.
Loved the post Diane some good points made.
Enjoy this new week and take care.
Yvonne.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips on dialogue that I try to follow. Thanks so much, Carolyn!

Sherry Ellis said...

Good advice! I've learned long ago not to follow all the rules that my grammar teachers taught me. Starting a sentence with "but" or "and" is okay when you're writing conversationally.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Write like you talk makes sense. And thanks for saying it's okay to start a sentence with "and" or "but". I do it all the time.

Pat Hatt said...

Natural sure is the way. Some people even try to stick big words in when they talk. Eye roll worthy

Liz A. said...

As soon as I got out of school, I let my writing relax. I was so thrilled to start sentences with conjunctions, and I used sentence fragments wherever I felt like it. So freeing.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I totally agree! Great advice!

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Great tips. Trying to sound intelligent when writing a novel is a surefire way to sound pretentious.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Elizabeth Spann Craig, you are so right! One reason so many writers get it wrong: English teachers don't address the topic. Literally. Other than a few schools--usually private ones--that offer classes in writing fiction, it is almost totally neglected. And that includes punctuating dialogue! Thanks for sharing!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Jemi Frazer, do you include a few dialogue basics in your classes? If not, I would be happy to give you rights to publish a handout on dialogue from my #TheFrugalEditor for your class. You'll find my contact information at https://howtodoitfrugally.com You sound like my kind of teacher. Ha!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Lol. Not unless you are writing dialogue for a nerd. Hugs to you!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Love you, love your group! Hugs.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Jacqui Murray, I do some tutoring of ESL students and almost all of the Asian students I've worked with have been told never to use contraction. Sooooo stilted! (-: Nice to meet you.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Luiz, as a marketer may I offer an idea for posts like this. Don't use copy and paste. Make them your own. I love your offer to return the favor, but do include something so that the host blogger knows you read it and/or appreciate some aspect of it.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I'm a poet, too, @nashvillecats2. And I often recommend poets break rules. And how I love it when they make up new words! The Jabberwocky is still one of my favorites left over from my childhood! (-:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

You are most welcome. My privilege!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Sherry Ellis, have you read @Chrys Fey's book on book marketing. Some people would think that kind of book should read like a text book, but I bet she reaches a broader audience with her chatty style! (-: I guess what I'm saying, is we can apply that "conversationally" thing too stringently. It is very hard to achieve voice with ultra formal English.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

As you can tell, I do, too. I thin the trick for using more casual English effectively is to go back and check for wordiness. That's the best of both worlds. (-;

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Pat Hatt, you made me laugh!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Yay. Fragments are so useful for emphasis! Thanks @Liz A.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Lynda R. Young, love your signature--a nice way to get one of your characters introduced!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@J.H. Moncrieff, you could have some fun writing a character who IS pretentious! (-:

Sandra Cox said...

What a helpful post, Carolyn. Wishing you much success.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Great advice. I've sometimes ended a character's sentence with, "I'd like to but."

Because I realised that I personally don't trail off in real life... and there's not always someone to interrupt me--, I just stop because I forget what.

I'm saying ;-)

I don't yet know how readers respond to this.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diane and Carolyn - essential to develop one's own natural style for writing whatever type of work you're producing. Wonderful post - thanks you two ... stay safe - Hilary

Sandra Cox said...

Interesting about the ands and buts.

SpacerGuy said...

Yes your absolutely spot on so like I must have written plenty of blog post intertwined with treknobabble ie a technological writers solution "God out of the machine" for a crises or threat to the ship in a story but then heres the thing, I'd written my blog post full of my technobabble and yes being a geek had a truly geeking out moment except then I realized... how many readers are going to be able to understand let alone enjoy what I've written? Oh the woes, so I had my sci-fi and star trek epiphanies.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Great advice! People don't speak in proper grammar, at least not all the time. People trying to follow all the rules ends with stilted writing that's hard to read.

Fundy Blue said...

Great advice, Carolyn! Thank you!

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Only if I kill them off. :)

Sandra Cox said...

I have problems using the word ain't, even when it fits. (I blame it on my mother. She absolutely refused to let me use that word:) My English instructor Beta reader/editor had me reeling when she put it in my manuscript:)

Tonja Drecker said...

This is so true. If everyone wrote properly, how boring that would be!