Peggy Bechko: Language, the Flow of the Written Word

words and writing

by Peggy Bechko

“Language is the source of misunderstandings.”? Antoine de Saint- Exupéry

Yep, there it is, on a whole lot of levels. Language, writing or speaking, can lead to misunderstandings of a whole host of varieties.

But let’s just stick to the reading and writing arena.

Readers, you read for information, education, entertainment, a whole host of reasons. When you read you hope what’s on the page before you will be clear and concise. If fiction it might be gripping and evocative as well, but still has to be clear so the story can be understood. The simple reality if it isn’t reasonably so, or in the case of fiction, very much so, then the reader stops reading. Sets the material aside and goes on to something else.

Writers, your intent is to inform, entertain and hold the reader whether it’s for purposes of education or entertainment. If you don’t hold on to your reader for whatever intent, then the information or entertainment won’t follow. So again, the simple reality is if the words on the page are scrambled and difficult to understand the reader stops reading. Sets the material aide and goes on to something else.

Simple, right?

Well, actually, not so much. Sometimes the material, if informative or educational, filled with something that must be learned or absorbed, then no matter how badly written the reader will slog on (no doubt muttering and curing to him or herself), but nonetheless will probably continue. It’s still not good that the reader is forced to stop, read and re-read to unscramble what’s on the page before him.

If you’re a writer of fiction or scripts, then it gets even worse. See paragraph 4 above. The fiction reader is far less patient because, well, he doesn’t have to be. The script reader will toss your script aside in favor of one he can make some sense of. The novel reader will curse whatever he or she spent on your book and your name or an editor will toss your manuscript in the digital recycle bin.

Writers read your work, re-read your work, have your friends read it if you can get them to. Have it professionally edited. Whatever it takes, make sure your writing flows, that it makes sense, that it doesn’t have places that brings the reading to a screeching halt. Drop all extra words; cut mercilessly. Read. A lot. See what makes that writing smooth and seamless. Your story, your information will get lost if the reader can make no sense of a sentence or a paragraph.

Don’t think ‘this is okay’ or fall into the trap of ‘I know what I mean so everyone else will too’.

Too much of what I read has words left out, sentences half written or so long it’s impossible to keep the thought straight. Too much has dialog where it’s unclear who the speaker is. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and make sense of the senseless. Just because it’s the era of texting and twitter doesn’t mean that’s the language of text book and novel. Focus and your writing will stand out.