As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I’ve been watching an old American TV series called “The West Wing” on DVD recently. It’s a drama series that is mostly set in the White House and one of the interesting things about it is that at least two of the main characters are speechwriters.
What this means is that there are at least a couple of episodes that revolve around the main characters writing political speeches for the president and, well, this made me think about the subject of fictional speeches. And, more importantly how to write them.
After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come up with a few basic tips that might come in handy:
1) Break it up with descriptions: In prose fiction, nobody likes an essay. Although a speech is a written document, you should never include your whole speech in one single block in your story.
Why? Because, to your readers, it will feel like they are just reading a speech rather than reading a story that includes a speech.
So, if you’re including a longer speech in your story, then you need to break it up with descriptions of both the speaker and the audience. Even if these descriptions are fairly short, they still need to be there in any fictional speech.
2) Tone it down: In sci-fi and fantasy fiction, there is nothing more enjoyably theatrical than a thunderously melodramatic speech – especially if it is delivered by a villain.
If you played videogames during the previous decade, you may have heard this thunderous speech (by the game’s villain) playing in the background of the menu screen for a game called “Red Faction II”. It’s hilariously melodramatic, it’s extremely memorable and it really added a lot of drama to the game before it had even stated.
In real life, people have – quite rightly – been wary of this type of loud rhetoric for at least the past seventy years or so. There are some very good historical reasons why these kinds of speeches are associated with villainous characters.
So, if you want your main character to deliver a dramatic speech and you want your story to be even vaguely realistic, you need to tone it down quite a bit. Yes, you can include a couple of short melodramatic moments in your speech – but if your entire speech is melodramatic, then it will sound cartoonish and/or hilariously villainous. So, save these kinds of speeches for the villains.
3) Make it look good on the page: Although real speeches are obviously meant to be read aloud, fictional speeches are only meant to be read.
What this means is that some oratorical tricks that might work in a real speech may not work that well on the page. Likewise, some real speeches probably look kind of boring if you just read them normally.
So, writing a fictional speech is probably more like writing a journalistic opinion article than writing an actual speech. Yes, it must sound like something that someone could actually say in order to persuade people to support a particular idea, but it must also work well as a written piece too.
4) Language and audiences: Just because your speech appears on a page rather than on a stage, this doesn’t mean that you can write it however you want. The kind of complex language that might work well in an academic lecture probably wouldn’t work that well in a speech delivered to the general public.
So, if you’re writing a fictional speech, then you need to know who your fictional audience are. You need to use the kind of language which this fictional audience will understand and respond to. If you don’t, then your fictional speech will look hilariously unrealistic.
5) Don’t preach: Finally, don’t use fictional speeches as a sneaky way to preach to your readers about your own opinions. Seriously, it’s really obvious when a writer is doing this.
If your audience agree with your opinions, they’ll keep reading (even if they might roll their eyes slightly) – but if they don’t, then they’ll probably stop reading.
People don’t like being preached at when they’re just trying to enjoy your story. Seriously, there are much more subtle and effective ways of putting forth your opinions in fiction than including a speech in your story.
But, if you absolutely have to include one of these “preachy” speeches in your story, then you should include at least one speech by another character that says the complete opposite. Even if this second speech is obviously intended to be villainous, then it will at least show your readers that other opinions than your own exist in the world of your story.
Anyway, I hope this was useful 🙂