The Power of ‘You’

I read something this week that caught my attention.

Not because of its contents (although they were depressing and would have been shocking just a few years ago), but because of the language.

This piece of writing was published by a member of an institution known for its formal, distant and let’s face it, stuffy language. But the language in this particular publication was very different.

The institution I’m talking about is the British Royal Family, and the publication is Prince Harry’s statement about the media treatment of is wife Meghan.

Take some time to read it.

The contents are depressing – media treatment of Meghan Markle (as she was called back when I was watching her in Suits) has been truly horrible, and often racist. And Prince Harry is a man whose mother’s death, while maybe not the direct fault of the media, was certainly linked to her constant hounding by it.

(Please don’t reply to this with thoughts on Princess Diana’s death, this post is about language, not about royal conspiracy theories!)

So, to get back to the point.

There was a time when a statement like this would have been painfully worded.

Try to read it aloud and do it in Prince Charles’s voice. There would be ‘um’s and ‘ah’s, scratching of the neck, pulling of the collar, and such like.

And it wouldn’t include such direct language. ‘One’ would be in there much more than ‘you’.

When institutions talk about the public, they normally use the third person. ‘The public’, ‘the electorate’, ‘ordinary people’. They rarely if ever say ‘you’.

But Harry does. Here’s an excerpt:

though we have continued to put on a brave face – as so many of you can relate to – I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been.

And another one:

The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader…

By writing like this, he’s doing two things:

  • He’s talking to you, the reader. He’s bypassing whatever media outlet or institution is relaying the message, and telling you about what’s happened to him.
  • He’s encouraging you to relate to him. He may be a member of one of the most wealthy and privileged families in the world, but he’s just a guy like you.

Both of these are powerful. Whatever your views on the British Royal Family and their treatment by the press, I think it’s a fascinating piece of writing.

And of course he won’t have written it himself. He’ll have advisers and writers working for him. And they know what they’re doing.

It won’t have any impact on the press (the next day, the Sun was bitching about him not warning Prince Charles about this statement first, in its own inimitable style). But it might sway public opinion in his and his wife’s favor, and against those sordid journos.

Who are writers too, and know even better than Harry how to use words to great effect.

If you’re writing fiction, it’s unlikely that you’ll be using ‘you’ a lot (unless you’re trying to be experimental). But you should say ‘you’ when you’re talking to your readers.

When you’re writing blurbs, blog posts, newsletters, press releases – anything designed to communicate directly with people – use the word ‘you’.

You won’t regret it.

Posted in Publishing & Marketing, Writing and Plotting
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