On Writing

The Elevation of Elocution


Every writer speaks two versions of their native language. Every reader understands two versions of their native language. One is our written language, the other is spoken. Often the things that sound beautiful in our mind, sound awkward on our tongue. As a writer, I think of written language as the expression of our higher self—it runs deeper, the words carry more weight, the sounds resonate with a greater brilliance…but, of course, there is a time and place for each.

For example, the lines I just wrote sound nice in my head. I doubt I would share those same thoughts with such “drama” if you and I were talking in person. Because each type does have its place, even in a novel. I can be the great and powerful narrator in some sections of my book, but when sharing dialogue I have to switch to spoken language…if I don’t you’ll yawn, it won’t sound real, the characters will become pretentious enunciators.

If you write a blog and fiction, you’re probably already aware of the two types of language. Your blog written in spoken language, your books a combination of both. Recently I was producing a podcast for my company. The podcast, True Crime, tells stories of…yeah, True Crimes. I wrote the script, prepared the musical score and outline (it’s a story so just like writing a book). When it came time for recording I began by reading the script…and tripped all over myself. The problem is written language doesn’t flow well on the tongue. To make it work we have to swap word choices and location and often chop sentences because normal speech includes many fragments. Communication would lose much efficiency if we had to add every subject to our sentence and elongate each contraction. In the case of my podcast, the plot remained the same, but what I said was not always what I wrote.

I do the same with my novels. I wouldn’t think of publishing a book without first reading the story aloud. Pace is important to me and critical for the genre I write in. To evaluate the pace, I need to hear the words aloud because that is the closest representation of “how” the reader will hear the words. I have to consider if a character would say, “I do not like green eggs and ham” or if he or she would actually say, “ I don’t like that crap.”

It’s a small thing of monumental importance.

There is always the temptation to sound intelligent in the writing. But as I’ve written about, you can be too smart to pen fiction. Fiction is for pleasure, pleasure is a thing of ease, so the simplest words are always the best words. Trying to sound smart and learned is dangerous. It’s the path to purple prose, a land where “the majestic, azure canopies cover ethereal clearings upon which his ancestral cottage wanes among the centuries slow march toward oblivion.”

Okay, honestly I don’t know what I even wrote there…I can’t even.

Reading aloud is, in my humblest opinion, the way to ensure the reader sees beyond the marks on the page to the worlds we form. Reading aloud shows us the thing we can’t see in our head. The thing we must taste to know—the Elocution.

I can write a great number of words that I can barely pronounce. In podcasts, seminars, and consultations I avoid these words like the plague. I should avoid clichés too, but I like them. Elocution, or pronunciation or annunciation is as important to the writer as it is to the speaker. How the words resonate with the reader is the difference between good writing and great writing. It’s not just plot and characters. When a reader states, “I couldn’t put it down,” that is as much about the pace, the sounds, as it is the plot. Crime and Punishment is a great story, but I’ve never heard anyone claim that they “couldn’t put it down.”

Words that sound nice together are more enjoyable to both read and to say. They have a tempo and we can hear them in our head, but to know what they sound like to others…we have to say them aloud.  A novel doesn’t need to read like a Dr Seuss book, but the sentences still require tempo and harmony. Reading aloud also helps us find those unreal sentences that are better in our head than in our ears. If you can’t say “my inner goddess screamed in pleasure” aloud…or with a straight face…then you may not want to write it in a story.

As writers—blogger, novelists, poets, copy-writers and even editors—we should practice the audible portion of our craft. We should intimately understand the elocution of words, even if we are not excellent speakers. The English language is difficult after all. It is a pidgin language, the combination of many different languages. The pronunciation can be difficult because they often require context as in Live, Read or just flat-out rote like cough versus through. You’d think a pig might equally eat from a trough or through if he had a cough but then again who knew what one threw to get through.

Elocution helps your story. And if you want to be humbled by your true grasp of the language then try some of the practice paragraphs out on the Net. Here is one fellow author and friend SK Anthony shared with me. Now SK’s native language is Spanish, but she speaks English far better (on writing it’s a draw) than I will ever speak Spanish and as I learned in our “elocution” contest, she speaks sing-songy English verses in a way that puts my years of public speaking to shame. She sounds like she’s reciting a beautiful poem and I sound like I need medical attention. (I’d like to see a contest between SK and our editor Lynda Dietz, who is also a singer–that would be a far better competition lol)

Where you fall into the spectrum, you can find out…try saying this example, even one time, without reading at first grader’s pace—good luck. And if you can nail all the t’s then move on to the “ops and ocks.”

And on a side note: The feature pic is a good example of why even cartoonists need editors… I can’t say it if you can’t spell it.

What a to-do to die today, at a minute or two to two: a thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do

We’ll beat a tattoo, at twenty to two a rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat tattoo

and the dragon will come when he hears the drum

at a minute or two to two today,

at a minute or two to two.

And a more difficult example~

Give me the gift of a grip-top sock,

A clip drape shipshape tip-top sock–

Not your spinslick slapstick slipshod stock,

But a plastic, elastic grip-top sock.

None of your fantastic slack swap slop

From a slapdash flash cash haberdash shop;

Not a knickknack knitlock knock-kneed knickerbocker sock

With a mock-shot blob-mottled trick-ticker top clock;

Not a rucked up, puckered up, flop top sock,

Nor a super-sheer seersucker rucksack sock;

Not a spot-speckled frog-freckled cheap sheik’s sock

Off a hodgepodge moss-blotched scotch-botched block;

Nothing slipshod, drip drop, flip flop, or glip glop;

Tip me to a tip-top grip-top sock.

Categories: On Writing

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2 replies »

  1. I thought I was doing great with the rat-a-tat-tattoos, but bombed out horribly with the knickerbocker grip-top socks. Good grief! And good catch on the cartoon oops.

    As far as SK’s melodious tones, I have to say she mumbles terribly when saying things like, “Turn here.” Can’t understand a word. We’ll let you know if we have a sing-off, though. Video time!

  2. The gold sun shone upon chrome domes until silvery speckles of the moon sprinkled on all inner goddesses on Earth—ugh . . . nope sounds insane, I’m not keeping that around. O_O

    And yes I rocked that “What a to-do to die today” passage! Go me! The other one? “grip-top sock” . . . I did okay too. Somewhere between the 23rd and 49th try, I think I nailed it. lol

    @Lynda — Bring it!

    (Fantastic post, btw)

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