Do people really talk to each other anymore? If I want my fourteen year old son’s attention, I text him. His fingers fly over the tiny keys faster than my own whiz across a keyboard. He doesn’t talk to his friends on the phone, instead choosing to communicate in silent spurts of abbreviations and acronyms.
With all of these substandard forms of writing floating around, the rules of grammar, punctuation, and even the meanings of words have blurred. In emails, forums, groups, and text messages, miscommunication is common. The reader cannot see or hear the writer. They cannot hear tone or inflection. They cannot see facial expressions or body language. All the reader can see are the letters arranged to create a semblance of understandable communication through words, acronyms, or abbreviations. If the reader isn’t familiar with the writer’s code, then the letters are merely that. Letters arranged without any meaning.
For authors, our goal is to paint the entire picture for the reader. We lay out the scene so the reader can see the characters and the locations and hear what is happening at the time. Our letters must be arranged carefully into comprehensive words, structured sentences, and complete thoughts.
Can you imagine the books of the future? I will translate for you in parenthesis.
“AY?” BG (“Hi, how are you?” Sally asked with a big grin.)
“0 U?” J (“Nothing, what’s up with you?” Mary replied, smiling)
“0 WAYD?”(“Nothing,” Sally replied, “What are you doing?)
“Broke up w/bf” L (“I broke up with my boyfriend.” Mary’s voice was sad.)
“Sry” (“I’m sorry”)
“NBD” (Mary shrugged. “No big deal.”)
“RU OK?” (“Are you okay?”)
“J but WTF?” (“I’m fine,” Mary said. “I just didn’t understand what went wrong. It started out so well and then he just changed. We had so much in common and we talked all the time, but lately, he’s been so distant. I think there may be someone else. I just don’t know. You know how guys can be. They are all lovey dovey when you’re alone, but the minute his friends show up, he becomes a stranger, and then the other day, we were in a chat room and he was talking to some blonde avatar. And I was right there.”)
“SOB STBY” (“What a jerk,” Sally said, “I wish I could say something to help.”)
“NP BRB” J (“It’s okay, really,” she said cheerfully, trying to keep her spirits up despite the devastating breakup. “Hang on a second okay, Sally?” Mary had another text coming in on her phone.)
“HB GGP” (“Sure,” Sally said, “Go ahead and answer it. I have to step away for a moment anyway.”)
“OMG GTG TTYL” (“Sally, he’s texting me right now telling me he’s sorry and he still loves me.” Mary couldn’t contain her excitement. “He doesn’t want to break up. There was no other girl. He knows he behaved badly. He promises not to do it again. I’m so happy!” Mary practically raced around the room with joy, her voice rising as she talked to her friend. “He’s going to give me his personal email address and he’s going to send me a real picture! Anyway, I have to go for now because he’s still texting me and his picture is coming through. I’ll talk to you later and let you know what he looks like!”)
Just imagine, in the future, a book like War and Peace would end up being a mere thirty pages.
The process of writing a novel, including the never-ending edits has forever changed the way I read someone else’s novel. Reading for pleasure is a new process. Instead of getting lost in a story, I find myself looking at the sentence structure, the grammar, and the descriptions. What techniques did the author use to make the characters believable or to allow me to see the scene in my mind? Are the things I imagine as I read the same thing the author intended for me to imagine?
One of my favorite things now is to ask my own readers what they ‘see’ as they read a certain scene or what they think my characters look like. My sister and I play a fun game where we find pictures of famous people who we think fit the parts in novels. Sometimes we pick similar people and sometimes we don’t.
After years of editing and re-writes, I find myself paying attention to the mechanics of writing in the books I read. If the author and I were both describing the same scene, would I have chosen the same word as the author? Would I have picked up on the same nuances as the author? Of course not. Each of us sees different things in the same scene. The mechanics of writing are fairly rigid while the style of writing is as different as each person. The key is to be able to separate the mechanics of the book from the story and determine why it works, or why it doesn’t.
I try to read for entertainment, but I catch myself rereading the paragraphs as I go along. The first read through is for enjoyment, and the second is to learn.