A popular post from January 2010
By Julie Wright
I eavesdrop. I've confessed this before, but I've been doing it a lot again lately so figured I was due for another confessional. I HAVE to eavesdrop when I'm working on a book because I have a problem I call speech reflection.
My writing is a direct reflection of my own language and speech patterns. I have to edit out a lot to change that, but first drafts are so transparently me. And so I resort to eavesdropping on other people's conversations to save myself from my own voice. If you listen to people--really listen, you'll find that no two people sound alike. Their word choices, their cadence and beat, their stutterings, ramblings, and hesitations all reflect on who they are. Like snowflakes, no two are alike.
In so many ways, my writing is like a mirror. It is a reflection on who I am even when I try hard for it not to be. My own persona sneaks into all the characters I write, whether they are the good guys or the evil guy. It's frustrating.
And in some ways, it's unavoidable. They tell us to write what we know and sometimes we just can't help but listen to them. But there are things we can do to find our own characters speech patterns and voices.
These are the things I try to do:
--Eavesdrop. You thought I was kidding, didn't you? No seriously--eavesdrop. Go and listen to other people's patterns of conversation.
--have a complete picture of what your character looks like. Some authors I know cut pictures out of magazines to identify their characters. This keeps them solidly in their head. If your character is always shifting in your mind on how they look, how can you pin down how they sound?
--remember your character's age. A two-year-old speaks differently from a ten-year-old, who will speak differently from a twenty-year-old. Don't forget to check the nuances of speech in different ages.
--know where your character comes from. New Englander who says "wicked?" Southerner who says "fixin?" Know their accents, and the vernacular of the culture they were raised in.
--take out phrases that anyone who's met you could pin point as something you'd say.
I have books in the past where the character sounds just like me and I cringe over it. But I've confessed the sin of speech reflection and am daily working on eradicating it from my writing life. So if you notice this in your own writing, feel free to go eavesdrop. People don't mind. They really don't. If they did, they wouldn't talk so loud.