Books: Even As We Speak — Written to be Spoken: Introduction |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Written to be Spoken : Introduction

In the years of my apprenticeship I devoted a lot of effort to making writing sound like speech. Ideally, I think, any kind of sentence, at any level of ambition, should obey the rule of never needing to be read again to get the sense. If it can obey that rule — which is the rule of speech — then it is more likely to invite being read again to get more of its meaning. But there is still a difference between prose written to be read and prose written to be read out. Prose designed in the first instance to be spoken will tend to be much more linear in construction, and thus susceptible to — because more tolerant of — rhetorical tricks. For the pieces reproduced in this section, I don’t claim the title of oratory, but I do hope to avoid the accusation of rhetoric. One of them is a television script, on the subject of Hamlet, whose hero warned about the negative effects of sawing the air with one’s hand. It is a piece I might have reproduced earlier, but thought to leave aside because at the time I still believed there were no exceptions to the rule that words written to pictures could not survive being melted out of the amalgam. But on second thoughts, the pictures for this Hamlet script were pretty skimpy — I wandered around castles of the type that Shakespeare ‘must have’ known about even if he never actually entered them, etc. — and a lot of people kindly wrote to say that they would like to possess the script in a less unwieldy form. Eventually, of course, one hopes that the audience feels the same way about anything one writes to be spoken. Indeed I can’t think of any other way to be impressive, as a would-be latter-day Pericles, except to say something that sounds more carefully composed than it needs to be — which is practically the definition of good writing anyway. Whether these pieces pass that test I leave the reader to judge, but the reader can be sure that I was trying hard. The Anzac Day address, for example, is the kind of thing nobody should ever take on unless he has a fair idea of what he wants to say, and a better than fair idea of how to get it said. People remember. Admittedly it is said that the people who actually heard Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg forgot every word of it, but that just proves the favour he did us by allowing it to be reprinted. (Sir Kingsley: ‘Yes, but you aren’t Abraham Lincoln, are you?’)