Writing For Speaking

Paul gets to the point about getting to the point.

There’s a reason why some print authors produce work that translates so successfully into Radio, TV and Cinema.

When you can write dialogue that’s so convincing you start to ‘hear’ the protagonist, it immediately makes the reader feel comfortable and keen to hear more.

It also results in adaptations that feel familiar and authentic, because they don’t have to be doctored extensively when they’re turned into screenplays. Ask any Harry Potter fan.

In a few short lines of conversation, a skilful writer can convey pages of character description – from the class and background of the speakers to their mood, agenda or even psychological state.

Skilful writers don’t try to make their characters say unlikely or unrealistic things, so they’d never attempt to make them provide ‘back story’ as a short cut…

e.g. "Ouch, I’ve cut my finger – just like I did when I smashed the glass in the chapel door 5 years ago after being jilted at the altar by the fiancée who turned out to be my birth mother’s parole officer…"

A skilful writer also knows instinctively how to pace their sentences, and actually give their characters time to breathe. It would make for very uncomfortable reading (or listening) if they didn’t.

These are all key attributes for us humble copywriters too. We’re tasked with trying to convey the essential elements of an advertising brief in an allotted amount of time, and our job is to write persuasive copy that clearly communicates them. If we’re successful, the result leaves the listener feeling like they’ve genuinely benefitted from hearing the message.

So if you’re briefing someone to write your next radio commercial, don’t just send a bullet pointed list of ‘mandatory inclusions’ – and don’t rub them up even further by suggesting that ‘two blokes in a pub’ could communicate all the information successfully. 

Try to send a brief that explains in very simple terms ‘WHO you are talking to, WHAT you want them to do, and WHY should they do it’ – then trust the writer to do the rest.

They’ll hopefully demonstrate that when you’re writing for voices, the most effective way to do it is ‘Speak as you would be spoken to.’


Paul Carter