The Uniqueness of the Written Word

"Writing", 22 November 2008
“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

The written word hold a unique niche among the many types of media available today. Despite the television, radio, and other forms of entertainment, the written word maintains an important place in our culture – and not only because so many of these other forms require the written word at some stage of their development.

The written word easily allows insight into the minds of the characters. This is rarely seen in movies which rely on visual representations. Thoughts, impressions, and feelings are common in prose. Thoughts are usually shown in italics; impressions and feelings are usually not italicized. This is so the thoughts stand out and so the reader is not overwhelmed by altered fonts.

Dialogue is another important trait of the written word. Two-way communication is a staple of human existence. This is something that is often missing from music (in the conventional sense). Dialogue in prose is also more focused than dialogue on television because fewer cues are given. Written dialogue is distilled into a minimalist form where only what is most important is included.

By showing only the essentials, the written word leaves room for the imagination to fill in the rest – unlike television where everything is usually handed to the viewer. It is up to the reader to imagine the visuals and because of this, each reader experiences a book differently.

The written word has voice, that subtle flavor of the writer that permeates and shapes the work. I think voice is stronger in the written word than in any other media. This is only opinion, of course, but it seems to me that a book – more than a movie, painting, or play – can fail to resonate based on voice alone. And voice may have the most power in the written word to shape reader experience because there are no intervening factors like actors, singers, or background music.

In short, the written word holds a unique place in our choices of entertainment. It allows easier insight to the minds of characters, it uses a minimalist style of dialogue, it leaves room for the imagination in a way that gives every reader a different experience, and gives a greater role to the writer’s voice. Other media may compete but none of them match the experience of the written word.

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