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Monthly Archives: February 2020

Fitting dialogue to fiction characters

 

David’s Mommy, PI Dana Bowman

You may have written your story with a three-dimensional  character. The reader is enthralled with your narration – the character’s background, what they think and what they do. Then your character opens his or her mouth and speaks.

The character,  is a 20-something immigrant to say Canada, Great Britain and English is his second language. But he is trying and when he masters English better he will be bilingual. But now he is speaking like a professor of English Literature. What’s wrong with this?

Or your character, a seven-year old boy speaks like he is 27 or older. He has average IQ for his age and your description of him includes a reference to that. Even if you hint at that the normalcy of his life will soon change with events, he is still a seven-year old boy.

Fiction characters’ dialogue must be realistic to their age and life situation.

The first situation was something unpublished I read. My take on that was to have the character speak in some-what broken English in parts, keeping in mind he is learning to speak English. So you would cut out all the “a’s:” and “the’s” as many people learning English as a second language do this. For example instead of saying “The car won’t run,” you say “Car not running.” That also covers another area. When learning English, the person does not use contractions. I also would interject  this phrase or something similar a few times during the person’s conversation “How do you say it?…”

The seven-year old boy who sounds like he is 20 years older is from one of my Beyond mystery novels – Beyond Faith. David, PI Dana Bowman’s seven-year old son, David may have been kidnapped, but coming back from that doesn’t make him act older. He may do some things he wouldn’t otherwise do, but in keeping with his age as well as his experience. My publisher picked this one out in one of my rewrites before the book was published. I had David traumatized by his kidnapping in Beyond Blood which had him doing things like drawing  demons.But he doesn’t go out and investigate what is happening in BF. He does become tuned-in to what is happening (what he comes up against), but in my changes in the rewrite I had him use his fear to show how he reacted. He had become protective of his mother and so he kept things to himself, even when he and Dana were in a session at the therapist’s. And to show he is still a boy, I have him mix up the meaning of words he overhears. In this scene he and Dana have had an argument about an incident when Joanna, the babysitter took David and Buddy (the dog) for a walk. Joanna went into a drugstore, telling David to stay outside. During that time one of the murder suspects shows up; David is frightened, lets go of the leash, Buddy goes after her. David runs after Buddy, and things happen and almost happen. Back home Dana is furious at Joanna for leaving David alone and at David. Here’s  the argument. It is from David’s point of view.

“Go to your room, David. I don’t want to talk to you now,” Mommy said. “And you too, Buddy. You’re as much to blame as David.”

As he headed towards the stairs he heard Mommy yelling at Joanna for leaving David outside the drugstore. Joanna was crying and saying she thought he would be okay with Buddy and she couldn’t bring him in when she had to buy those famine products.

“What are famine products?”

“David, upstairs,” Mommy shouted at him.

(From Beyond Faith by Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press, 2017, copyright 2017 Sharon A, Crawford).

Notice, Dana is called “Mommy” with David’s point of view. Often when he addresses her he says “Mommy, Mommy…”

So how can authors have their characters talk like well, the characters they are:

1. Get inside their head.

2. Listen to characters around the same age and life situation as your character. I knew a writer who at age 30 was writing a book about and for teens. She figured she was too old to remember how teens spoke, so she sat in a park where teens congregated and eavesdropped. This was before Smart phones. You can probably come up with other ways to listen in. If family dynamics and your main character is a mother – go to a grocery store and watch for moms with kids. You can get great insight on parenting and how their kids act in grocery stores.

3. If you do character profiles or descriptions before you start writing, add some dialogue.

4. When you have some dialogue written, read it out loud, or better still, record it and play it back. Does it sound realistic?

5. And read novels with diverse characters of all ages and situations.

These are just a few ways to get your characters speaking in character. But it will get you started thinking.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery books.

 

 

 

 

 

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Avoid the tourist approach describing story settings

So, you are sticking with you Point of View writing your short story or novel. The story is from one person’s point of view or perhaps two or three. You have each chapter, and scenes from chapters in only one character’s point of view – no POV change until you are in another chapter or scene. Then you hit some geography.

Maybe it is a particular town or city you character is in or maybe even the inside of a house. Suddenly it is reading as if a another “person” has shown up – somebody called the narrator. But you aren’t using the narrator as a separate person. Your main character or characters are doing all the narration.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Your main character is a young woman, aged 30, named Caroline. She is returning to her home town after many years away and is driving into the town. Let’s call it Whistletown. And the author is starting the chapter like this.

Whistletown has a population of 22,500. The entrance to the town is on Highway 55, which winds its way into the downtown. Main St. has a grocery store, drugstore, cleaners, bookstore, Lulu’s Diner, a couple of gas stations and the obligatory MacDonalds.

Whoa! What’s happening here? Where is Caroline? Has the area’s tourist bureau suddenly taken over?

There is a fix for this and you can keep in your description of the town. The key is to put your character in it.

Has the population increased since Caroline was there last? Why did she leave? When was she there last and why is she suddenly returning? How does she feel about that as she comes into Whistletown? And how does she drive in? Is she hesitant about returning home? Or does she just speed into the town? What has changed on Main Street and what is the same?

Here’s a possibility for the rewrite of the chapter beginning.

As she drew nearer to Whistletown, Caroline slowed down. Not because of the traffic; there wasn’t much here on Highway 55, just an SUV far enough ahead of her that she couldn’t see its license plate. The other way, nothing. Wait a minute. A big Wal-Mart delivery truck was speeding out of town. Don’t tell me Wal-Mart had come to Whistletown? Things must be expanding. A honk sounded behind her and she realized she had almost come to a stop. She sped up, but apparently not enough for the car tailgating her as it passed her and continued on at race driver pace.

Sheesh.

Now she was passing the sign reading “Welcome to Whistletown, Ontario’s home of the Blue Danube Orchestra. Population 22,500.” That was a big jump. It had been only 6,000 when she had hurried out of town, hell-bent in getting away from Josh, after he had broken their engagement to marry Janie, her younger sister. Now Janie was dead and she suddenly regretted their 10-year silence. At least Mom had kept in touch occasionally, by letter and email and the odd brief phone call. She wondered if Mom had forwarded her emails to Janie.

She was now at Main Street and slowed down a bit, forcing herself to look at her surroundings. Lulu’s Diner where she and Josh had spent hours just hanging out, drinking sodas, was still there. And darn if it didn’t look the same. Murphy’s Hardware Store, Samuel’s Grocery Store, Hamlin’s Pharmacy were still there, the hardware store looking a little shabby. But Hamlin’s was now part of the PharmaSave chain and where was the cleaners and…what was that up ahead?Was that a MacDonald’s. Well, that was obligatory these days, she supposed.

She continued driving through Main Street until she had passed the downtown core. Suddenly she had to know if there was a Wal-Mart in town. There was – in an open mall up ahead. As she passed it she noticed a Canadian Tire, a No Frills Grocery Store, a Shoppers Drug Mart, a cleaners, although not the one she remembered from Main Street, and at the far end a huge Wal-Mart. 

As she turned onto Robinson Street for her mother’s home, she wondered what else had changed. She had the impression that her mother’s phone calls and emails hadn’t told her all.

 

That’s one example. We get the outline of the town, its changes, how the main character sees it all and how it affects her and how she feels about returning home after 10 years away.

How do you work “geography” into your fiction so it doesn’t read like a travel piece?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. And yes, my main characters are right there for “geography” including Lilly, the main character in “Unfinished Business” (short story in Beyond the Tripping Point) who is returning with her daughter to her old neighbourhood in Toronto where something terrible happened when she was a child.

 

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