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CHAPTER III

THE FIRST FORM OF ORAL COMPOSITION

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22. What the First Form Is.—The first form of oral composition, as we saw in the previous chapter, is simply telling in your own words what some one else has said or written.

23. Telling What You Have Heard.—What is said in this chapter applies mainly to what you read; for you will probably take most of your talks from the writings of other people, because here you will have a larger field from which to select. You can choose a piece of written matter when it suits your convenience, and you can read and re-read it as many times as you wish. These things are not true of what you hear.

However, if you are to take your oral composition from the speech of some one else, a few suggestions are necessary. Do not undertake to relate what the other person has told unless you understand thoroughly what he was trying to say. You should know his point of view—his mental and emotional attitude towards his subject-even though you do not agree with him. Try to analyze what he has said ; pick out his main points. But give your talk in your own language. Never imitate the manner or the speech of the speaker. 24. How to Read for an Oral Composition.—When

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you have selected an article for an oral composition, read it the first time-not as if you expected to be called upon to tell it—but read it for your own pleasure and information. Then read it a second time to analyze it, to get the framework of the whole, order of topics, main points, and illustrations. Make a short mental outline of the article, or such portions as you wish to make use of. This outline when expanded and developed in your own language will be your oral theme.

Do not attempt to explain anything in the original that is not clear to you. Study it. Know it. See what was in the author's mind. Appreciate his point of view.

In your first talks, which are practice exercises intended to accustom you to doing smoothly what you have previously done loosely, read your original as many times as you like. But in your later talks, read the original once only. For the real purpose of the first form is to fit you to tell a magazine article, an editorial, a story, or give a book review, in a pleasant, informal, continuous talk after one reading.

25. Should the Original Be Condensed or Enlarged?-In most cases the original should be condensed. But all depends upon the ability and the interest of the hearers, the occasion, and whether the article itself is developed in detail or condensed. (See the long expository article, “Pushing Back History's Horison," page 80.) It may have been prepared for one class of people, and you are telling it to another class. If you were relating to a five-year-old child a story intended for an older person, you would have to explain in detail parts too difficult for the child to understand, or perhaps omit them if they were not too important.

26. Order of Telling the First Form.-If the order of arrangement in the original is clear and easy for you to follow, and you think your hearers can follow it without difficulty, then you had better stick to the general plan of the original. Especially is this true in telling a story or other narrative. But always feel free to make such changes as your judgment tells you, in your case, to be for the best.

27. Do Not Memorize.—To memorize what you are to say kills the personal touch that you ought to put into your talk. Memorizing destroys freshness and originality. You may retain the author's tone, style, and spirit, but not his language. However, in articles whose meaning or point depends upon a key phrase or sentence, you should learn this key expression. If you told Poe's story Thou Art the Man, you would have to retain the exact Biblical expression “Thou art the man” in order to give the story its full significance.

28. Do Not Talk from Notes. You are not making a speech where notes are permissible. How many shoes do you suppose a traveling salesman would sell who talked his stock from notes? You would certainly ridicule any one who held in his hand a card of notes to aid him in conversation. In either case above, there

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might be a greater array of facts and more exactness than if the talker had not used notes,-but notes dull the spirit of what is said ; they kill the interest of the hearer. And when his interest is gone, facts and accuracy are worthless. Rely on yourself. Get the habit of talking without notes, and you will never feel the need for them. Oral composition is intended to be of practical service to you in actual life—where you will talk straight ahead, depending upon nothing except yourself.

29. Do Not Forget Essentials.-Some people have a lazy habit of forgetting an important point, and then of disrupting the entire talk to lug in with apologies, at the wrong place, the omitted essential. If you have this defect, endeavor in your first talks not to forget. Often it is advisable to omit entirely these forgotten items rather than to disjoin your talk by going back and bringing them in.

30. Do Not Shift the Point of View.-Most written matter is composed from the point of view of the third person. Your history, physics, geology, rhetoric, and practically all your other texts are written in this way. But a great many narratives are recounted by the first person, I” being the one who tells what takes place. The first person is employed to tell the story in The Cask of Amontillado, in Robinson Crusoe, and in Treasure Island. It is best for you to tell your composition (of the first form) from the point of view of the third person, even though the original may be written in the first person. (See an original

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story, page 68, and a student oral composition taken from this, page 72.) Of course, the introduction and the conclusion can sometimes be given more advantageously in the first person. (See student oral compositions on pages 72, 112.) The difficulty of attempting to re-tell the original in the first person is that you will unconsciously mix the first and third person as narrators. Another serious drawback to using the first person is that you will be compelled to employ more dialogue than by the third-person method. Dialogue is much more difficult to handle in oral composition than in written.

You will discover it to be surprisingly helpful to tell the article as if you were the composer of it. This merely means that you have digested very thoroughly what you have read, and that you are lending it that personal touch which makes your re-told account a thing of interest to the hearers. The musician who plays successfully a piece of music does so only when he has imparted to it something of his own personality. And, still further, another advantage to be derived by relating another's composition as your own is that you do away with repeated awkward references to the writer, such as “the author says,” "Hodges then takes up the attitude of the tax-payers towards higher taxes," and so on.

31. The Beginning of Your Talk.—Tell, before you enter the oral composition proper, where you read your article, by whom and when it was written, and add such other preliminary information as will give

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