There’s a risk, when putting words on the page, of drifting so far from the rhythm and style of everyday-speech, that we alienate potential readers. Just to be clear, by speech, I don’t mean dialogue, I’m talking of general prose, and writers voice…like this piece, for instance.
Although I’m addressing you in the first person, we both know you can’t interrupt, raise a query, or set me a counter argument. This page is my podium, and the rule I’m exploiting is that only I can speak.
Consequently, I’m using words in a way that I wouldn’t in conversation. A lot of us prosy-people like to do this. It’s partly because of my enjoyment of language, and using precisely the right word to convey my meaning. That’s good, that’s desirable. But, why did I need to begin this paragraph with ‘consequently‘? And I could have said, ‘I love words, and like to use them accurately.’ – it’s to the point: it’s just as true.
It’s not so impressive, though, is it?
I seem to be a narrator with an ego. I try not to be, but LOOK, I’m writing, and you’re reading. You are reading every word, aren’t you? I want you to, but what I really want is that you enjoy these words so much you follow their route all the way to my final full-stop.
So how can I keep you?
Well, Chekov said, “Good writing is like a windowpane”. I take that to mean that my words should not get in the way of what I’m trying to convey, whether that’s fiction or fact or something that straddles them both. Turned the wrong way round, language can become more about the writer than it is about story.
I’m not trying to claim that all fiction should be written in the same way. This isn’t about the vocabulary we choose, it’s about our syntax – which the Oxford Dictionary defines as, “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences”. Sometimes it pays to think about whether that arrangement creates a tone that overpowers our content.
It’s easy to slip into a writing-style that borders on archly-academic – or do I mean, academically arch? But be warned, using the type of prose that ‘feels’ writerly is instantly dating (don’t you think?).