Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Phone Test

I've spent the last 3 weeks or so in critique land. Very little writing, just getting and giving feedback on queries and first 250s.

I've noticed a main theme develop in my comments: Fix the worst writing glitches by following this rule:

Read It Out Loud!

Flow problems? Authentic dialogue? Overwritten?

 When you HEAR your own words, the problems fix themselves. At least 90% of the time. Sometimes they don't, but that's another post.

The thing is, when you use your outside voice, not your internal I-love-these-words voice, you process differently - it's just that simple. Your mouth stumbles over awkward phrasing, overly formal or purply prose.  You know what you would say in "real life". That's what you should actually be writing.

Some of you know I teach writing - business writing. My students work for various US agencies and departments. My job exists because SO many government employees overwrite and crowd their documents with long, fussy, circuitous language. And, for the most part, they know better. But the culture of government writing supports, nay, ENCOURAGES that, so that's what they do.

The truth is, high level leadership wants plainer, simpler language - and certainly taxpayers do too. But the disconnect is huge.  If only I had a dollar for every time I've heard this: "We've always written this way; it sounds more official".

Uh, nope.

So anyway (*forcibly removes herself from her soapbox*), when I help people unlearn bad habits, we chant the Golden Rule. You know it now, say it with me:


Keep it simple, and they will get it. 
Keep it real, and they will connect.

But, oddly enough, I never thought to apply that to my own creative writing until I read this post from the amazing Authoress, whom many of us depend on for wisdom, truth, and great contests.

She is Dauntless and posts about her own learning curve, so I am going to take a page from her blog and do the same.  Here is what I wrote in one of the early versions of my current query letter:

 It’s also a speculative take on the controversial world of stem cell research.

Say what?

Read it out loud, and you find your tongue stumbling across the consonants. You wonder, now just what does she mean?

But I didn't hear the problems because I didn't SPEAK it, and so, I actually sent it out that way.

So, try it. You'll surprise yourself.

One last note: when in doubt, try what I call the "phone test". When you can't figure out how to word something, pretend you're telling it to someone on the phone. Actually speak out loud. 90% of the time, what you say on the "phone"  is drastically different from what you say when you're staring at the screen.

Be Brilliant!

1 comment:

  1. I agree!!! I try so so hard to make my prose realistic and not what I THINK it should be, but what it really is in real life speech.