Do You Write Like You Talk?

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Many writers think their writing will be more natural-feeling if they write like they talk. They think it will have a truer ring to it. The problem with this is unless you are William F Buckley Jr., you don’t want your writing to sound the way you talk!

For instance, my speech is lazy. I use lazy words. “went, felt, was, whatever,” these words tumble out of my everyday conversation like wet socks out of a dryer. How would you like to read the following passage in a book?

She went into the kitchen. “’Sup?”

He was all: “Same ol’ same ol’”

She went over to the fridge. “I saw her today.”

So waddup?”

Well, she went, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So I was all, “You are so not telling the truth.’ and she goes “Really? You gonna go there?’ So I was all, ‘Whatever.’”

He went quiet. “She knows.”

Oh really? Do ya think?”

Sadly, That is the way I talk, pretty much. It’s real and natural to me, and people follow along just fine. If I wrote like that, it would be natural and real, but not even my mother would read it. Well, she doesn’t read what I write, anyway, because I can’t write spy thrillers.

I would, as a writer, and not a speaker, change that sample passage thusly:

She slipped into the kitchen, but looked out the window instead of at him. “So what’s the story?”

He peeled an orange, most of it ending up in the sink, the rest on the floor. He tore a large, juicy piece off, and stuffed it in his mouth. “What story?”

She turned from the window, looked at his bulging cheeks, the orange peels on the floor, and then crossed to the refrigerator, yanking the door open. No wine. She inhaled, then said, “Apparently, she didn’t have any idea of what I was talking about.” She grabbed at an orange in the crisper and turned to face him.

He stared at her, juice dribbled down his chest.

She put back the orange. Still looking inside the fridge, she said, “I told her, ‘Are you really going to lie to my face like that?’”

Another chunk of orange ripped apart. “And…?”

Notice I’m not using big words on the rewrite. It still sounds natural, but it stands up on the page, instead of laying down dead. A seventh grader should be able to read and follow your writing without feeling like he’s reading one of his friends’ texts.

Back to William F. Buckley Jr. His political pieces were written in the same way he talked. For example, Buckley wrote this about Islam as it related to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I think. I’m not sure, because I can’t understand it:

It is thought to be a sign of toleration to defer to islam as simply another religion. It isn’t that. It is a form of condescension. Carefully selected, there are Koranic preachments that are consistent with civilized life. But on September 11th we were looked in the face by a deed done by Muslims who understood themselves to be acting out Muslim ideals. It is all very well for individual Muslim spokesmen to assert the misjudgment of the terrorist, but the Islamic world is substantially made up of countries that ignore, or countenance, or support terrorist activity.

However, Buckley knew that when writing novels, he couldn’t get away with writing the same way he talked. I’m much more able to relate to this passage lifted from his novel, Marco Polo if You Can:

The prosecutor wore civilian clothes, a double-breasted, ill-fitting, broad-lapeled brownish suit that looked as though it had been washed in clam chowder.

Whatever. Late.

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