Monday, March 26, 2012

Youse guys think your writing's gonna get better using Strunk & White? Fuhgeddaboudit! Aint gonna happen.

I'm not sure how many colleges still hand out a copy of The Elements of Style, but if you think it's going to make you a better writer for television, you're sadly mistaken.

The thing about writing television news copy is that it is rarely grammatically correct. Just think about the teases for your newscast. "Man shot. Fire breaks out at airport. Film at eleven." Throw that at a Strunk and White proponent and see what happens.

Seriously, you think a book written in 1918 is applicable to television news today? Television didn't even exist in 1918. For those of you who are math challenged, that was 94 years ago.

From day one in my first newsroom I was told to write "conversational copy." What that basically means is that you should write the way people talk. Hence the term "peoplespeak" that has been thrown around for years.

Bottom line, we are story tellers. And if we're telling a story to a friend on the phone or face to face, we don't stop and formulate perfect grammatical sentences in our heads before speaking. We just talk.

To think you can "learn" to write conversational copy is ridiculous. You already know how to do it. You do it every day off camera. Now just do it on camera.

Those who think there's a "formula" for writing good copy don't realize that following a template sucks the "voice" out of your writing style. All great fiction writers have a voice. You don't need to see Stephen King's name on the cover of a book to recognize his writing. It's his "voice" that makes his work distinctive.

There is no formula. I laugh at some of these computer programs by which you can paste your copy inside, hit a button, and have all your "errors" highlighted. Just for the hell of it, I copied the first two pages of "To Kill a Mockingbird" into one of these programs. It informed me that there were more than 70 errors.

Oh, please.

So toss the ancient books, turn off "grammatik" on your computer. Just write what's in your head. Imagine telling the story to a friend, then write it down. Trust me, it will come out better than if you followed the advice in any book. And over time you'll find you have a "voice" that makes your work distinctive.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2012 © Randy Tatano


1 comment:

turdpolisher said...

You hit it on the head again, Grape. I tell every intern and every class I speak to, "Read fiction." Those guys know how to string you along. Use those elements in your writing: great verbs, active voice, twists and turns. And use your own words! Don't try to sound like a reporter. Be a person. Someone the viewer would like to sit down with and discuss events over a few drinks.