COMMENTARY
7:30 am
Wed June 25, 2014

Write Like People Actually Talk

Write Like People Talk, Not How You Think Writing Should Sound.
Credit witthaya / fotolia.com

Why make it harder on yourself? Write the way real people talk, not the way you think writing should sound. 


When most people write, they usually write the way they think writing should sound. They write two or three times more words than needed.

Al Sullivan taught writing at Boston University in the 1950s. He had a couple of important things to say about writing. First, you should write the way people talk. Most people find that hard. He also said you should write colorfully, and that the best way to do that is not with adjectives, but with verbs.

In one assignment, I wrote that an old man’s glasses were barely hanging on the tip of his nose. Al said, “No, no, not hanging. Say his glasses were barely surviving on the tip of his nose.”

We hear and see little clear writing any more.

When I was young I studied the great newspaper columnists. Like Jack Lait, who wrote in 1934, “John Dillinger, ace bad man of the world, got his last night: two slugs through his heart and one through his head.”  And Bob Considine in 1938, “Listen to this, buddy, for it comes from a guy whose palms are still wet, whose throat is still dry, and whose jaw is still agape from the utter shock of watching Joe Louis knock out Max Schmeling.”

Colorful, powerful writing with simple, one-syllable words. Just like we talk.

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