Write Like You Talk – A Guest Post By Phillip T Stephens

When I taught college writing, I told students to write like they talk.

I didn’t mean write like you really talk.

If we taped and transcribed our conversations, we’d quit reading after the first page. In everyday conversation we use filler language to give our brains precious seconds to catch up with our words, we backtrack to fill in details we previously forgot.

From time to time we expel word farts.

For example:

“Like, Carol and I were driving, you know what I mean? When this badass cop, I mean really badass, six foot tall in navy blue, nazi jackboots, you could tell he wanted to bust anyone to put another notch in his badge. Where was I? Oh, yeh, he pulls us over, we were driving seventy, like, I mean…we were in Dripping Springs which is about twenty miles south of Oak Hill, if you’ve never been out that way? No shitting? Man, I thought everyone knew about Oak Hill even if they never drove through. But anyway, the only other drivers are rednecks and blue haired ladies, I kid you not…”

Artifice vs. communication

I use the phrase “Write like you talk” as a metaphor for stripping the pretension from your writing, writing to communicate rather than impress. In non-fiction that means make sure to make your point clear. In fiction that means no distractions; keep the reader in the story.

“Write like you talk” doesn’t mean leave no room for art, tropes, themes and metaphor. In fact, writing without artistry can turn away readers as quickly as murky prose. It means that you shouldn’t front-load your prose to impress readers with your artistry, but to enhance the story. If it distracts the reader, if it draws attention to you and away from the story, then you might as well write poetry.

However, even should you turn to poetry, the best poets would advise you that art should never distract the reader from the poem. The only time you want the reader to dwell on the trope is when she reaches the last line, the image lingers in the corners of her consciousness and she thinks, “Wow.”

The artistry in your story should be like that. It should linger at the back of the reader’s consciousness. They might not even recognize it until another reader points it out. Readers want to ride in the passenger seat at full speed until you dump them at the destination. Ride over. Their response should be. “Ride over? No way. Let me back in the car.”

A Fine Line between clarity and art

Crafting a good story requires walking a fine balance between clarity and artistry. Hopefully the adage, “write like you talk,” will remind you that every story should carry a quality of ordinary conversation.

Compare the writing of Pynchon and Joyce to Hemingway and William Carlos Williams. Which impresses and which do you follow without wrestling with meaning?

You don’t want your readers (especially when you write non-fiction) to think, “He was a brilliant writer. I didn’t understand a word he said.”

Links

Amazon Author Page

Blog: Wind Eggs

Book Reviews

Twitter: @stephenspt

Novels

Cigerets, Guns & Beer: Kindle, paperback

Seeing Jesus: Kindle, paperback

Raising Hell: Kindle, paperback

The Worst Noel: Kindle, paperback

Short Fiction

“The Hellelujah Trail,” free on Smashwords

“A Christmas Carol: The Sequel,” Smorgasbord—Variety is The Spice of Life

“Quantum Noir” Wind Eggs

“Free Wheeling Free Association and the Theme Park Rangers of Death,” Hell’s Grannies: Kickass Tales of the Crone

“Hell’s Kitties,” Hell’s Kitties: and Other Beastly Beasts

Poetry

Feeding the Crow

Academic Publications

The Poetry That Drives and Divides Faith International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society (1:43)

Science and the Language Wars,” International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society(2:4)

Phillip T Stephens

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17 thoughts on “Write Like You Talk – A Guest Post By Phillip T Stephens

  1. The Past Due Book Review

    One of my creative writing professors in college had us go into the student union and eaves drop on a conversation to get a better idea of the cadence and rhythm to how people speak. He wanted us to edit out the “word farts” and pay attention to how people interrupt each other or their body language to help embellish and paint a better picture in our dialogue. I also think “He was a brilliant writer. I didn’t understand a word he said” is similar to what an overly self-romanticizing writer would want on their tombstone. I really enjoyed this post!

    Reply
  2. http://www.salpa58.wordpress.com

    Kevin, thank you for this most informative post. I hope you don’t mind but I printed it to give to my husband hoping that he realizes a simple “yes” or “no” answer is all that is necessary to most questions. I will be keeping my fingers crossed and hoping it resonates. ☺☺☺

    Reply
  3. Bélanger Robinson

    Good information. Clearly, I should work more on my writing. Here’s a funny and true story: years ago a friend proofread a college paper that I wrote, handed it back to me and told me that I didn’t write it. When I said that I did write it, this long time friend said to me that I did not write it because after speaking with me regularly, she knew that I wasn’t that smart 😂😂

    Reply
  4. Chuck

    I think it was Mary Karr in her The Art of Memoir called it finding your voice. As a novice writer, I went through the period where I felt I needed to impress my followers. I struggled and then followed the advice of many to, as you say, “write like you talk”. It really makes it easier and you spend more time developing your characters and story.

    Reply
  5. Mary P

    Good post. I didn’t understand a word he said” is similar to what an overly self-romanticizing writer would want on their tombstone.

    Reply

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