Tone & Stance

        Who am I when I try to write an essay? To whom am I speaking? How do I sound authoritative when I don't know much? Am I supposed to sound academic? But what would academic prose sound like?  What person am I when I write?  

        Writers unclear about these thorny issues may well find themselves writing convoluted, excruciated prose, full of basic errors of grammar and spelling that that would never arise in their everyday speech. Miraculously, those tangles may fall away as soon as you
become clear about your listeners.

        Those listeners are, most immediately, all your colleagues in the course. More broadly, they are all the keen fellow-readers of the work about which you're writing. You can assume they know the work well. What they (we) want to hear is your carefully crafted, clear articulation of your own mind's ideas. The interface between your mind and, let's say, Romeo and Juliet: that's where the spark is, that is what we want to read in your essay. The personal aspect of your voice as a writer is this intellectual character or personality of yours, yourself as a literary thinker.

        In your early drafts, you are probably writing for yourself, in the sense that you need the process to figure out what you're thinking and to push it forward in words. In your final draft, you are writing for others, serving them, communicating with them, anticipating their needs, as a friendly guide and fellow thinker.  If a particular choice will serve the reader as well as the thought, that's the best choice.

        Imagine, says John Trimble in Writing with Style, that "your reader is a companionable friend with a warm sense of humor and an appreciation of simple straightforwardness." Write, furthermore, "as if you were actually talking to that friend, but talking with enough leisure to frame your thoughts concisely and interestingly" (page 77).

More thoughts to come on this page.

Sources for quotations on this page:
John Trimble, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. New York: Prentice Hall, 1975.