In another life, the one between being Napoleon’s idiot brother and this one, I used to be a theatre director. Not a particularly good one, but that’s no matter in the world of make believe; in fact many successful international directors have built their careers on personal and profound incompetence.
This line of work brought me in touch with actors and Shakespeare – for every swing there is a roundabout. When rehearsing Shakespeare there comes a time when actors have to let go of the sides of their metaphorical swimming pool and try to run through the play without using their script. And when they do, a magical thing happens. They start to make Shakespeare more Shakespearian. Ordinary lines of perfectly comprehensible English, like “What have you done?” become translated into Olde English speak – “What hast ye doneth forsooth?”. I exaggerate for comic effect (not for the first time I hear you sigh). But the principle is true – simple ‘you’s become ‘ye’s and ‘eth’s are added at the end of verbs willy-nilly.
I’m half way through Bleak House at the moment. And I’m finding that Dickens is much less Dickensian than I’d expected. He, like Shakespeare, refuses to be his own parody.
Big corporations should take note. Instead of putting on the ‘corporate’ communication hat and trying to write in the style that they think everyone is expecting, they should just write their own thing in their own way. You can talk about ‘getting better at talking to customers’ instead of ‘engaging in ongoing consumer communication strategy uplifts’. You can say you’re ‘sorry for making a mistake’ instead of ‘taking the opportunity to apologise for errors that may have occurred’.
Good writing isn’t about conforming to a stereotype, it’s about making a connection with the reader.
By the way, for all those people who keep telling me that you can’t start a sentence with the word ‘but’, I’ve already counted 7 sentences in Bleak House that do just that. And I’m only half way through. If you’d like to borrow a copy of Bleak House, give us a shout.