In my profession I read a host of work by writers who have a difficult time with voice. I’ve never really had any problem with expressing voice in fiction, but non-fiction writers could benefit from being more conversational unless they are writing formal essays.
Nobody likes to read someone drone on and on without the spice of genuine conversation.
One of the problems that we face as writers is figuring out what type of voice is appropriate for any particular genre or medium. I always tell my students to write essays in third person and with formal diction, but some of the more lively papers control their voice and create a consistency that sells whatever persuasive idea they are pitching.
Regardless of genre or medium, the following 5 tips should help you on your journey to write in a more conversational manner without sacrificing the glue of content.
- Listen – One way to write more conversationally is to listen to the way people converse. This does not mean that you need to add a ton of slang to your formal essay (please don’t) or use “street language” in your fiction. If you write fiction, visit a local diner or shop in the neighborhood where your story takes place and listen to the conversations. I would say record them, but then we get into all kinds of legal problems. Just listen and take notes about diction, hand gestures, facial expressions and other quirks. These small nuances will make your writing that much more fun to read. Non-fiction writers (especially essayists) should refrain from slang, but try to put what you hear around you into the text.
- Be Real – One of the easiest ways to be more conversational in fiction is to write the text in first person and get inside the head of the character for a while. Be a method actor. Don’t think about it too much, just be the person. If you work at it, and then let beta-readers read your text, you can get some excellent feedback that will be truly helpful. When I say “be real”, I simply mean that you need to sound like a real person and not the automated voice at the supermarket. Real conversation is full of serious information followed usually by humor or anecdotes.
- Read – There are some very good books out there by some authors who are excellent at being conversational. If you are having trouble with this you need to study them intently. Stephen King once said “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to be a good writer.” More natural and conversational voice comes with practice and with reading texts that do this expertly. I read Ready Player One, loved the premise, but found the writing to be stodgy and stiff. If you want to see some good “conversational” voice, check out The Martian by Andy Weir. The journal entries in that text are excellent examples of conversational text. For non-fiction, my pick is Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper Case Closed.
- Write a Journal – One way that you can really up their conversational game is to keep a daily journal where you record everything. Write about it all. Don’t leave anything out. Some of my best conversational writing has come from things I wrote down on the fly or when I was “in the moment” of some gut-wrenching emotional battle. Life, real life, causes us to (hopefully) reflect on our lives and this can translate well to a fiction or non-fiction piece.
- Join a Writing Group – This one is pretty obvious, but some of the best feedback I have received has been from other writers. They will tell you if you sound too stiff or too robotic. The important thing to remember when joining a writing group is not to take your feelings in there, but to learn from everything they observe. They are only trying to help you, and if you can’t take a little criticism you are not cut out for writing. Conversational writing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and then after that even more practice.
I hope these tips helped you to focus on this area. Perhaps you have another tip you would like to add below, maybe something that has helped your writing become more conversational. Leave a comment, and happy writing!
6 thoughts on “5 Tips To Becoming A More Conversational Writer”
I’m a fan of “casting” my characters using movie starts. Then I start watching youtube videos of scenes with said movie stars. After a bit, you start hearing their voice in your head. From there, it’s an easy transition, I’ve found.
So….I guess I’m suggesting writers spend countless hours on youtube. Great advice, that.
It is indeed.
Good stuff, Roger. I’ll add one.
It’s surprising to me how many people don’t realize that, often, the way we would say a thing and the way we would write it differ. For instance, look at what I just said there. While we can say in live conversation that two things “differ,” we generally don’t say it this way. We would say in live speaking situations something more like, “The way we speak is different from the way we write.”
Herein lies another key to being more conversational in your writing (by the way, I likely wouldn’t say “herein” or “likely” if I’d spoken this):
Read your writing aloud.
Better yet, have someone else read it back to you. Does it sound stilted when someone reads it aloud (which I’d have phrased as “out loud” if I were speaking)? If so, then edit until you (or someone else) can read the passage aloud and sound like they are “just talking.” Once it sounds right as spoken, it is, by definition, conversational.
Roger, drop me an email about something when you get a moment. If you visit my blog, my email address is in the right side margin on laptops / desktops.
Such a great comment, Erik. It is the one method that I use all the time. I should have made this list and even 6.
Puneybones, that is one heck of a moniker! Made me laugh. Here’s hoping your actual bones are within normal range.