Writing in the Voice of the Internet

What does the Internet sound like? I’m not referring to MP3 or other audio players. I’m referring to the voice of writing on the Internet.

Of course, you may be asking if the Internet truly needs its own voice. I’d say not necessarily. As I’ve written in past columns, good copy is good copy, so one doesn’t need to adapt a special voice for Internet writing if the words are solid, intelligent, and interesting.

But why not take advantage of the voice welcomed on the Internet? The Internet encourages a voice more provocative and irreverent than stodgy print does. And shouldn’t that be a blast for all you creative types? What follows is how I define the Internet voice.

Be Irreverent

Go ahead, be provocative. Don’t be obnoxious just for shock value, but provoke new thoughts. Speak the truth as you see it, even if it does fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Consider the following prose from Nude as the News author Jeff Vrabel, who is outraged at presidential candidate Pat Buchanan pilfering Springsteen tunes to introduce his stump speeches:

    Without any form of consent, Buchanan used — no, stole — “Born in the U.S.A.” and politically sodomized the track by using it as intro music to a speech… another case of a clueless jingoist grotesquely misinterpreting a song’s message.

“Clueless jingoist”? “Sodomized”? Regardless of what you think of the candidate, those are strong words. It’s most likely the Los Angeles Times would not take this approach, but on the Internet, strong, provocative language and imagery work.

Play With Grammar

I’ve got an ad copy background, so sentences starting with “and” and “but” are part and parcel of my style, even though they have caused some grade-school rants and raves. As long as you don’t get sloppy, you can bend a few rules, including dropping an “and” at the beginning, middle, or end of your sentence. For example, let your writing sing out loud and…

Pick up Cultural Cues

On the Internet, you have some shared knowledge with your readers. My advice is to use cyber terms sparingly, though, because not everyone is up on every term. (Recently, I thought an article entitled “Are You Unstrung?” was challenging my sanity rather than asking if I had joined the brigade of wireless aficionados.) The best approach is to mix the vernacular with the enlightening. Too much jargon ruins the clarity of the writing.

Make up a Few Words

“Cyberpunk” was coined to describe a certain kind of high-tech rebel, and it’s a word that remains evocative today. Go ahead and use your Internet voice to add a few fresh words or phrases to the lexicon, as long as they’re skillfully crafted. But do explain new terms when you volley them about, and avoid those annoying acronyms I receive at the end of emails and sometimes read in copy. YKWIMDR? (You know what I mean, dear reader?)

I also encourage you to be your own editor. Read the copy to yourself. Is there something that doesn’t pass the hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck test? That’s my personal test for assessing if I’ve gone overboard or written something that may come back to bite me: an exaggeration, a factual mistake, an attempt at being TCFWF (too cool for words, folks). If I get the willies during a reread, the line or paragraph goes to recycleville.

Thankfully, most of us have our own voices. Play around with yours, and go for it on the Internet. Wide open spaces are still there for creative and compelling copy.

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