February 20, 2005
FINDING YOUR BLOG VOICE - UPDATED 5-24-05
So you've taken the plunge, started your blog, posted your "about me" entry, and now you're stuck staring at a blank screen, wondering what to say.
Welcome to the blogosphere.
Realize, though, that good blogging isn't so much about what you say, it's about how you say it. More specifically, it's about how to make your typewritten words sound like your speaking voice.
The challenge is that, all through school, we're taught to write a certain way - use complete sentences, indent to start a new paragraph, don't use slang, blah, blah, blah.
As applied to blogging, most of that is crap. You're not writing a thesis, you're talking to friends. Even if the topic is serious, it'll be better-received by your audience if it's written in a friendly, casual manner.
First thing. Put blank lines between paragraphs instead of merely indenting a new line. A computer screen holds a LOT of text compared to a newspaper column or a book page. A nearly-solid block of letters is hard on the eyes and makes it easy for the reader to lose his place.
White space is your friend.
Moving on. In order to make text seem more like speech, the two things you need to reproduce are pauses and emphasis. When you speak, it's not a series of run-together words delivered in monotone, and your writing shouldn't be that, either.
There are several different emphasizing tools: bold, italics, ALL-CAPS, and *asterisks*. I have my preferences on how to use each, but these are suggestions, not laws. Play with it and use what you're comfortable with.
Bold - I use this mostly for drawing attention to a particular sentence in a large quote, or for the subject word if I'm doing a list. Although some people use it to emphasize a paticular word in a sentence, I prefer not to as it can be confused with a hyperlink.
Italics - My technique of choice to emphasize one particular word, mid-sentence, I find it best conveys the slight stress given to words in the course of normal conversation.
ALL-CAPS - Mostly used for a sentence which was shouted, such as "HEY YOU KIDS! GET OFFA MY LAWN!", but it can also be used for single words, mid-sentence, interchangably with italics. I tend to use it this way both for the sake of variety, and because - when I compose posts on my PDA - it's easier than typing in the HTML code for italics tags.
*asterisks* - Good for emphasizing short words where italics wouldn't be very noticable. Particularly useful for emphasizing the word *I*, which is already capitalized and looks too much like an "L" when italicized. Also good for the sake of variety when there are several separate words emphasized in a sentence.
There's also underlining, but it looks too much like a hyperlink, so I almost never use it.
Now for pauses... you have several choices, and they're essentially interchangable, so I won't go into detail about them. You can decide for yourself what length of pause they create, and when it's appropriate to use each.
- hyphens -
But DO use them - they put the rhythm of speech into your writing.
Finally, a few words about colloquialism and regional dialect. Bein' from Wisconsin, ya know, I have my verbal idiosyncrasies, and I type them. The final "g" gets dropped a lot, so I'm not shy about typing it that way if that's what it sounds like I'm saying in my head. Figure if that's how I speak, I'm gonna write that way.
Use contractions, too. You're NOT Commander Data. You-do-not-speak-like-him. Do-not-write-like-him, either. If you habitually say contractions, type them. It's friendlier.
Remember, it's BLOGGING, not a term paper.
A caveat - there WILL be certain times when you want to write a serious piece, and the more-formal writing techniques are more appropriate. Go ahead and use them without guilt. But for day-to-day life-blogging, a more casual approach is perfectly acceptable, if not preferred.
And finally finallly, don't be shy about tossing in onomatopoeic interjections. A well-placed YIKES! or UGH! or DAMN! will liven things up, and even an occasional "um...", "er...", "wha..." or "uh..." can do wonders toward making your writing seem more conversational.
The thing to remember is that your English teacher isn't watching, and when you're blogging, the important thing is to use ALL the tools of the language to convey your thoughts. The only standard you're answerable to is "does this help the reader understand the subtleties of what I'm trying to communicate?"
Forget the "rules".
ADDENDUM: When teasing or using sarcasm, sometimes it's not obvious from the words alone that you were just kidding. To avoid misunderstandings, I'm fairly liberal with my use of "emoticons". Some people consider them a bit juvenile, but I consider them necessary. Facial expressions are an essential part of verbal communication, and I see no reason not to include them as a type-written substitute. My personal favorites, which are fairly self-explantory:
UPDATE 5-24-05: [If you've found this post useful enough to blog about, send a trackback or e-mail the permalink to me at harvolson-at-gmail.com and I'll add you to my Bad Example Groupies blogroll. See this post for details]
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