I bet you’ve done this: you come across a box or album full of years’ old photographs and you are immediately captured. Whatever you were doing at the time, stops…and there you sit, sifting through one picture at a time and verbalizing your memories for each. Well, the same thing happened to me, of sorts, when I found myself reading old postings I wrote for my blog.
Like old photos, old writings are remembered, but not in detail. That’s what makes them interesting because you are now seeing them more objectively than you did during your original pass-by. Now, much of the content seems new, some of it is incredibly impressive to you…and just as much is not! It is with that in mind that I will feature some summer reruns over the next week or so…past writings that appeared on my blog from a few years back.
These postings still have life and if I don’t remember them all that much, well certainly they’ll appear brand new to you. Brand new, in most cases, is a good thing. So, without further ado, here’s the first rerun. It’s targeted to writers, but not to worry, if you only write an occasional post-it note to stick on the fridge, it may still have something to make that chore easier…
Posted on December 4, 2012
On the alleged presumption that I am a legitimate professional writer, based on the fact that I have been paid for my writing and that I do have published work, I suppose this blog could be considered a credible source for information or advice about writing. All this is a bit quizzical to me since I spend much of my time reading blogs by other writers with the specific intent of securing credible information or advice about writing. I guess it makes no nevermind who is the source or the sourcee, as long as useful information is disseminated. With that in mind, I offer up what I think is a useful presentation if you are a new writer. The topic: writing with sound in mind…in other words, learning to listen to what you write.
Writing with sound in mind means putting your thoughts down more in a style of how you would say them as opposed to how you would write them. I have a leg up in this area since I worked most of my life in radio. I’ve done a ton of writing for radio, everything from news and feature writing, to promotional announcements and commercials. Writing for radio is a little different from writing for print. Interestingly enough, the process is not a two-way street. Writing for sound works when transposed to print and can even improve it, but writing for print does not always sound good. Whether you’re writing for print or for a presentation you have to make at your next meeting, here are some things to consider when writing for sound…
Grammar Doesn’t Count
Writing for sound can actually enhance a print document. It will make dialogue read more naturally and it can improve things like pace and comprehension. The first major hump to get over when you write for sound is learning how not to be overly concerned with structure—and that usually means grammar in the traditional sense.
Listen a little more intently the next time you have a conversation with someone. You will notice that a good bit of the communication going back and forth is in the form of phrases or fragments and not in complete, properly constructed sentences. If your conversation has been pretty much routine, the two of you will have had no problem in completely understanding each other. If you were to transcribe verbatim what the two of you said, your high school English teacher would bleed red ink profusely all over your paper. The point is, to be effective and functional, written communication does not always have to be perfectly structured. It works quite well when the words are written in the same pattern as they would be when said. Sometimes editors, especially those reared in the print media, need to loosen up.
Shorter is Better
When you write for sound, breathing becomes a factor. Long drawn out sentences just don’t work. If you want to sound like a smooth, articulate speaker, you need to learn how to control your breathing as you speak. Short sentences help a lot since you can pace your air flow without having to gasp in the middle of a thought. This last sentence is a good example—it’s about as long as you’d want to write for sound. You’ll hear what I am saying by simply going back and reading the sentence out loud. Most people should be able to get to the last word with no difficulty, but any words beyond that may need a breath of fresh air. Short sentences read faster, are more easily understood and pace thoughts more rapidly. They work especially well if you are describing a lot of action. Listen to the play-by-play announcer the next time there’s a touchdown or home run or a three-point basket. Yep, you’ll hear short sentences…in fact, more likely, short phrases. None of these are written down, but if they were they’d be easily understood, said or read.
Keep it Simple
Some writers like to impress people with their extensive knowledge of the language. When I have to read something with a dictionary on standby, it’s certainly not for pleasure. Few of us, other than some lawyers, high-techie types or the pseudo-intellectuals we occasionally run into, speak in complex terms. Any seasoned manager or military leader will tell you it is not easy communicating effectively so that everyone absolutely, positively understands and translates every thought in exactly the same way. Good luck with that!
Using “big words” only exacerbates the problem. “Exacerbates” is a good example. It is a word that not everyone truly understands and it is often mispronounced as “exasperates.” Like many, it is a really good-to-the-point descriptive word, but it can easily jam up the sound. Unless your role is to educate, words are best kept simple when passing through the lips. Save the more complex usage for when they’re landing on paper.
What he says or she says is important to any conversation. But where you place the “he says” or “she says” is more critical when writing for sound. Ever notice when you are reading a magazine or newspaper article and you come across a long statement that is being quoted, at the very end is “…according to one source at the Pentagon.” This attribution is necessary so you know who made the statement. In print it is easily tacked onto the end of the quote with little disruption. However, if you read that sentence out loud, the attribution at the end usually sounds clumsy. When writing for sound, put the attribution at the front of the sentence, or break the sentence somewhere inside and place it there. Examples:
The President said, “The troops will come home when both sides have
assured us there will be no further hostile activity.”
“The troops will come home,” the President said, “when both sides have
assured us there will be no further hostile activity.”
Hear What You Write
One last thought is the one I started with: listen to what you write. In order to do this, you have to read your work out loud, or have someone read it out loud to you. If you walk into a newspaper newsroom you will notice the normal clacking of keyboards as reporters type away. Walk into a newsroom at a radio or television station and you may hear one thing more—a sort of muttering sound here and there around the room. That’s the sound of reporters reading back—out loud—to themselves what they have written. It’s the only way you can tell how your writing sounds. If you stumble while reading it, run out of breath, or it just doesn’t sound right, you will know immediately that something needs editing. On the other hand, if it sounds good, your writing will not only read well out loud, it will likewise read well off the page.
Well, I hope there was something here worth your while. Now go run off and start planning that audio book you’ve always wanted to do.