Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Clearing Your Throat

Thinking about qualifiers yesterday reminded me of my beloved father.  He was an exceptionally polite and courteous man, right up to his sudden illness and subsequent death last year, when he charmed all the nurses on the ward with his politeness and consideration, only once showing any tetchiness after some ghastly, painful operation - which he immediately apologised for.  I think he had consciously decided at some point in his early life to be courteous, perhaps when he was a bright but poor boy, relying on scholarships to make his way in the world. Certainly, as children we were frequently told that good manners cost nothing but paid dividends.  

He also told me about what he called 'throat clearing.'  These were the courtesies that preceded a request.  I wonder if you would be so kind as to.... Forgive me for disturbing you, but I wished to enquire about... He said that you needed to put in a few words to ensure that you had the person's attention for the moment when you asked for whatever it was you wanted.  

There's a tendency to do 'throat clearing' in writing.  Those opening paragraphs that waffle on before the story really gets going in paragraph 3.  The characters who start every speech with Well, or Oh, or Hmm.  It's natural, because that's the way we are in real life. We come at situations sideways, clearing our throats before we get on to the nitty gritty.  

Trouble is, it's boring to read.  Write it in the first draft - first drafts you're allowed to do as much throat clearing as you like - but don't forget to delete in the next draft.  You want your writing to be as easy to read as possible.  That's only good manners. 


Anne said...

I love your writing, interesting relevant and succinct. Much of it more like “Thought for the day” with wider applications than creative writing.

badas2010 said...

Lots of my dialogue starts with "Well," and "Oh," and "Ah!"
When I read out loud it sounds right, and when I take them out it sounds like writing, not dialogue.
Is there no hope for me?

Sarah Duncan said...

Thank you Anne, that's nice to hear.

When you read them out loud it sounds real, because you're reading aloud and well, um and ah is how we speak. But when you see it written down it's another matter, it just makes the text look cluttered.

It's something actors are also prone to do BTW, add in ums and ahs. You get ticked off for it because the play loses crispness and edge when there's all that umming going on.