Your word, Sir
by Valerie Ipson
"Have you dined this evening?" or Didja eat yet?"(1) Week 6 of Mastering the Craft of Writing is about using "appropriate levels of formality"--or not. If our words are delivered on silver platters we can bet that we are being way too formal. Obviously, this kind of tone can seem "stiff, stilted," Wilbers says, "even arrogant" to our reader. The opposite is when we're way too informal, too familiar.
Generally we should fall somewhere in the middle, but knowing your audience is key. Adapting to the occasion and to your subject matter is important as well. A speech presented at a business awards dinner will be different in tone than one given at a frat party. (Just guessing here.) A novel written for teens will be different in tone than one for adults.
I think the trend toward INFORMAL-ity in our society because of texting, email, social media (and other factors) makes even the slightest occasion for FORMALITY in writing or speech-giving seem almost awkward, but maybe that's a topic for another day.
Here's some homework for you: Make this sentence found in Chapter 6 less formal, but not too informal. Give it a medium range.
Until such time as the luminescence of the setting summer sun was at last extinguished from the western sky, people remained stationary, a community amalgamated by their adoration of the beauty that emanates from nature.(2)
It probably goes without saying, but for you fiction-writers, you may have the occasional character who actually is arrogant and speaks in a stuffy, stilted way. His/her dialogue should mirror their personality, but your narrative shouldn't...unless your narrator is the arrogant one.
1. Mastering the Craft of Writing, page 33
2. Mastering the Craft of Writing, page 34
TAMARA: So I wonder, is there also a psychology to the formality of language with our characters? Aren't there some we like because they have a perfectly formal way of saying things and then others that use that two-bit word at the right time? Or the hilarity when a conversation ensues between the two...
Peggy: Or status/posturing that, used correctly, can effectively show your characters in relation to each other.
One thing Valerie and Wilbers touch on is that remembering your subject, audience, and occasion will help to achieve the right formality level.
People came together to enjoy one of nature's grand displays, the sun disappearing beyond the western horizon. (note to readers: Check out the answers in the book, they're much better...)