Come Again?

Last week, for Nailing Down The Essentials, we looked at the actual words the character speaks. This week is about how those words sound. As writers, we want so badly for our readers to hear our characters’ voices as we do, and we often struggle with how best to ensure they do, with mixed results.

The task becomes even more difficult if our characters speak in something other than standard English with a fairly mid-Western accent. If they have a regional accent, or worse, speak an obscure dialect, how can we be sure our readers hear that? And what about speech impediments? Most readers will be familiar with lisps or stutters, but what about other issues, perhaps from a tied tongue, or cleft pallate?

If we write dialogue exactly as our characters speak, we run the risk of the reader not being able to follow. Take Jack for example, from my own WIP, Blood Dragon. He speaks a regional dialect I grew up with – it’s steadily disappearing and was only spoken by a small population to begin with, and is difficult for non-native speakers to understand. This passage:

“Time is running out. They said twenty-four hours. It has been seven and we have nothing. Pain doesn’t do it for her, or she’d have bent a little by now.” 

If I had resorted to phonetic spelling, a technique newer writers may be tempted to fall back on, that passage would look like this:

“Time a’ru’n’ out. ‘ey sa’ twu’y-four ares. ‘s b’n se’n, ‘n ‘e ain’ go’ no’n. Pain ‘on’ do ‘t f’r ‘er, ‘r she’ ‘a’ ben’ a l’ul ‘fo’ now.”

Um. Srsly? You want to subject a reader to deciphering THAT?? Well, I don’t. If my reader has to slow down and try to reason out what my character is saying, my book is going to put a dent in their wall. So, how do I let my reader know he speaks something other than standard English?

First, while I was planning his character, I selected a few words to emphasize his dialect. Supposed became s’posed, probably became prob’ly, get became git. When Jack speaks those words, I use my modified phonetic spelling, but I don’t stop there.

I use his word choices, turns of phrase, and his grammar, to show the reader a little more of his actual speech. I make a couple of references to him being difficult to understand. “His habit of slurring words together and dropping entire syllables made his words nearly unintelligible.”  at one point, when he is speaking to someone unfamiliar with him. I have another character who knows him admonish him to speak correctly. Another frequently asks him to repeat himself. Here is my representation of him speaking that passage:

“Time’s running out. They said twenty-four hours. It’s been seven and we ain’t got nothing. Pain don’t do it for her, or she’d have bent a little by now.” 

My reader won’t hear him exactly as I do, but they’ll have an approximation.

Accents can be treated similarly. Most Americans are at least slightly familiar with a Southern drawl, or a Brooklyn accent. By simply telling the reader that the character has that accent, they get it. We can further show the accent with word choice, and one or two simple phonetic spellings.

My good friend and critique partner, Azure Boone, has a supporting character with a unique speech impediment, and she shows it brilliantly. Jeremy is also developmentally disabled, so she uses his phrasing, grammar, and word choices, to give the reader a sense of what he sounds like. Then she goes one step further, and uses just a couple of words exactly the way he pronounces them. Remember is mamember, and breech (he tells everyone he meets how he was born breech – a stellar technique for showing his personality) is pronounced bleech.

We can give our readers a pretty good representation of what our characters sound like if we use a variety of techniques, and trust the readers to be able to put it all together and interpret what we’re trying to show them.

Practice using all the tools I’ve covered in the last few weeks, formatting, dialog tags, action beats, unique character voice, and, finally, accents. Put them all together, add a little research and your own touch, and your dialog will become more realistic, and make your characters memorable.

This post concludes the dialog portion of Nailing Down the Essentials. Next week, I’ll move on to a different story element. Since I haven’t decided yet, if there’s an aspect of writing you’d like to see covered here, leave a comment. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert, but I’ve picked up a few things. And if it’s something I don’t know enough about to explore here, I’ll research it.

Have you found the dialog series helpful at all? Do you have other techniques to make your dialog stand out?

Thursday Throbs 12-15

It’s been a long week, trying to get my family ready for the holidays while also trying to finish revisions for Blood Dragon, and sneak in a little time to continue working on BDII‘s first draft. I really need to come up with a title for that one – getting sick of calling it “BDII“. Oh, yeah, and I’m slowly working on some changes here, too. And I just remembered, I need to send out Christmas cards… Oh, well, you get the idea. I’m sure your week has been just as busy!

So, I took a little eyecandy break and dug up a few pics for you. I’m a some-time tattoo artist, though these days I mostly limit myself to creating the art (and not much of that, too busy), leaving the actual tattooing to my daughter. As a result, I love looking at tattoo pics. It’s even better if the tat is attached to a sexy guy – not a balding, middle-aged, overweight, mid-life crisis dude with stretch marks who’s suddenly decide he’s always wanted ink. Seen enough of those, thank you very much!

These tats have sexy guys attached! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo FTW!

Wheew!!! It’s finally OVER! All over the world, NaNoers are frantically copying their novels, pasting them into the wordcount validator, and hitting submit. With hard work, and a little luck, aching fingers and worn-out keyboards, some of them managed to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I really didn’t think I was going to make it this year. Last year, I passed 50k on the 18th, and completed the entire first draft by the 30th. Not this year. I only passed 50k around noon today, and I still have a lot of work to finish this first draft. I was lucky to get near 50k, let alone pass it, but I managed 53,094 words this year.

As a result, I get to do this:

My project this year was to pick up the stalled first draft of Blood Dragon II. With luck, I’ll manage to finish the draft, and complete the revisions on Blood Dragon by the end of December, and get them both moving on to the next step in the road to publication. Not to mention, there’s another Blood Dragon story waiting in outline form, demanding to be written. It’ll have to wait until these two are on the way, though. 😀

Excerpt Party!

The members of my blogging network are having an Excerpt Party today! Unfortunately, I missed the posting deadline to participate officially. If you’re looking for something new to read, search #excerptparty on Twitter and check out the postings of a bunch of amazing writers.

Even though I’m not participating officially, I’ve decided to go ahead and put up an excerpt – more than my Six Sentence Sunday posts.

The following is from the first draft of Blood Dragon II, Chapter 2. The point-of-view character in this scene is an involuntary antagonist, forced to go along with his brother’s plans. All the antagonist scenes in this story are told from his POV.

* A word of warning before you read: This passage is from a first draft, and is still unedited, except for a quick spell check.

 

Cam Darcy was getting sick of waiting. His sore knee was stiff as hell, and he wanted nothing more than to get out of the car and stretch his legs. He ran his hand through his short hair. Needed to get the shit cut again before the weather got really hot.

He risked a glance at his twin. Ryn’s stony gaze met his, and he quickly turned his eyes away. Bastard wouldn’t give an inch. When Ryn said they’d sit there watching until King got home and called the cops, he’d meant every word. King came home an hour ago. They’d seen him arrive.

But for some reason, King still hadn’t called the cops. It made no sense. Any sane man coming home and finding his apartment trashed would call. But only one guy had gone through the main doors of the expensive apartment building since King arrived. No cops. No lights. Nothing.

Damn, his knee was killing him. “Okay, Ryn, this is crazy. He’s obviously cleaning up the mess himself. Not going to call anyone.” Probably shouldn’t have said that.

Ryn’s heavy fist stopped a hair short of his cheek.

Cam knew better than to flinch. It would just infuriate Ryn and the beating would be ten times worse. Not now, but later. At home. Where there were no witnesses.

“Shut the fuck up. When I want your opinion, I’ll tell you what it is.” Ryn returned to glacial silence, gaze never wavering from the door of King’s building.

Like it or not, the beating was inevitable now. No use holding back. “What if he’s not a vampire? I know Fite and his buddies say he is, but what if he’s not?”

“Can you really be that stupid? Of course he is. Why else would he have all that blood hidden in the back of a broom closet? There’s a ton of other signs, too. He’s a fucking parasite is what he is.” Ryn fell silent once more, as if that were the end of it.

Cam let it drop for now. King wasn’t worth it, anyway. His twin was a pit bull when he latched onto an idea, and he wouldn’t let go of this one. Cam wasn’t even certain their sister was worth it. But that was Ryn’s obsession. Anytime a guy got close to their younger sister, Helen, Ryn went off the deep end until he found a way to destroy the guy.

King wasn’t easily accessible, though, and Ryn hadn’t been able to find anything in his past to make King back off. It didn’t help that the big man had just laughed when Ryn challenged him. An attempted mugging resulted in King wiping the alley with both Cam and Ryn. Hence Cam’s fucked up knee. Then Ryn came up with this bullshit.

A resident left the building, jogging past their car, and started a steady stream of people leaving the building for the day as they headed to work. The car parked in front of them left, to be replaced immediately by a dark green SUV with blackout windows. No one got out for a quarter of an hour, then a pretty woman with dark red hair and long legs encased in snug jeans got out and crossed the street. She entered King’s building.

“Go grab us some fresh coffee and a sandwich or something.” Ryn’s voice broke the silence.

Cam couldn’t prevent the surprise from showing on his face. Ryn never allowed him to leave like that. Not in the middle of an “operation”. This departure from the script didn’t bode well for Ryn’s grasp on reality, or Cam’s health in the near future. Arguing wouldn’t do any good, either, so Cam climbed out of the car.

Grateful for the chance to stretch his legs, he took a moment to appreciate the feeling of using muscles that had been forced to inactivity for long hours. Just wished it wasn’t daylight yet.

He started off toward the corner, long legs eating up the distance. People he met took one glance at his face, and looked away fast. Not that he could blame them. The knife wound that made the scar that ran from his forehead to chin had also ruined his right eye. The right side of his mouth lifted in a permanent sneer. The scar was wide, and angry red, stark against his tanned skin. He would look away, too, if he could.

Self-conscious, he lowered his gaze so he didn’t have to see the disgust on people’s faces. Acute memory of receiving the wound, and its aftermath, surfaced against his will. Ryn had been drunk, angry, and Cam had dared try to take his car keys. Ryn reacted by pulling a knife and cutting him. Their father refused him more than basic medical care. The wound wasn’t even stitched closed. Wonderfully durable seventeenth birthday gift. So far, it had lasted a decade.

A little boy clinging to his mother’s hand stifled a scream when he saw Cam’s face, and jolted him out of the memory. The mother clutched her child to her, scolding him for being rude, and hurried on past.

Cam lowered his face as much as he could, wishing for a baseball cap or something, and quickened his step. The sooner he got this over with the better. That kid was exactly why he didn’t go anywhere during the day if he didn’t absolutely have to. Which brought his thoughts back to King. How the hell could the man be a vampire, even if such a thing existed? He went out during the day all the time. It made no sense.

He finally reached the McDonalds and shoved through the door. Cram packed full of morning breakfast buyers. Shit. He groaned. The rush could take hours to clear, so he couldn’t just wait it out in the restroom or a secluded booth. Ryn would have a conniption if he took longer than half an hour to get back. He was going to have to face the crowd and hope he didn’t scare anyone so badly they screamed or fainted.

Chewing his lip, he joined the back of the line, and studiously stared at the floor. Even with four workers taking orders, the line was incredibly slow. Finally, he drew near the front, and nobody had screamed or fainted yet.

His turn came and he stepped forward, when something small and soft and sweet smelling careened into his right side. The force shifted all his weight onto his bad leg, which gave way. At the same time, scalding heat splashed over his chest.

Cam struggled to keep himself from falling, and instinctively grabbed for support onto the person responsible. His hand encountered the soft fullness of a breast, and he yanked it away as if burned. “Sorry.”

But the quick movement of his arm finished the unbalancing the collision had started. He went down. Hard. On his bad knee. A groan that wanted to be a scream ripped from his throat as fire slammed through his knee and up his leg.

Small hands grasped at his shoulders. “Oh, my God, are you okay? God, I’m so sorry! It’s all my fault.” The voice was silky soft, laced with something that instantly made Cam hard despite the pain and mortification.

He got his bearings enough to attempt to rise to his feet. Those little hands were still there, trying to help. Finally, he stood, trying to keep his weight off his injured leg. A tiny slip of a girl, head coming just to the middle of his chest, stood, flustered and fussing over him.

No, not a girl. Woman. Slim, but with a grown woman’s curves. Pale blonde hair straggled around her elfin face and shoulders, having come loose from whatever arrangement she’d made of it on the back of her head.

With an alarmed expression, she touched his chest where the scalding liquid still burned. “Oh, my God. I spilled the coffee on you! Come on, you need to get that shirt off before it burns you worse.” She started tugging his shirt from the waist of his jeans and pulling it up.

“Uh… Miss, it’s okay. I’m fine.” He had to do something to make her stop. Every eye in the place was on them. He didn’t want that kind of attention. He caught her tiny hands where they had successfully pulled his T-shirt up to armpit level. “Really. I’m okay.”

Vivid turquoise eyes widened and traveled upward, taking in hard abs and sculpted chest. They didn’t stop there, as Cam would have preferred. No. Instead they continued up until they were gazing into his one good eye. “You can’t be fine. I heard your knee crack when you hit the floor, and you have blisters starting on your chest from the coffee. You need to see a doctor.” No trace of fear, disgust, or revulsion. Just genuine concern for another human being.

Cam’s heart turned over in his chest. Why couldn’t he have met her another day and another way? But a woman like her wouldn’t notice someone like him unless forced to do so. Heart pounding, struggling to keep his breathing even so his voice didn’t scare her, he tried to reassure her. “Seriously. I’m okay. No harm done. Let me get you another coffee.”

Six Sentence Sunday

In the midst of sick family members, I somehow managed to miss posting last week. Never fear, back this week. This week’s Six is from Blood Dragon. Jaden has just attempted to attack Redinger as he tried to force her into one of the torture chairs.  He retaliates with a cattle prod.

The searing pain almost made her wet herself. Far worse than the bullet to her knee.

“Silly vampire. Did you think I wouldn’t be prepared for that?” He stepped back and waited for her to recover her breath. “Get up now, and go to the chair.”

National Novel Writing Month

November. Each year in November, tens of thousands of writers from all over the world chain themselves to their keyboards for the entire month. It’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It breaks down to 1667 words per day. Those who finish get bragging rights and a nifty badge to display.

Anyone who ever dreamed of writing a novel can use NaNoWriMo to realize that dream. Beginners can get caught up in the excitement, and with the support of other NaNo-ers, both in real life and on line, and before they know it, they’ve written a book! Experienced writers can use the momentum to help them break some habits that stand in the way of productivity.

Some writers get hung up on making sure each sentence is perfect before moving to the next, so they have a hard time meeting word count goals. In NaNo, there isn’t time to edit. Even if it’s crap, the words have to get on the screen. Editing comes in December. Others have a hard time writing on a consistent basis, but most people have to write every single day in order to complete NaNo. A month of establishing productive habits can be long enough for the old habit to be broken.

Some agents and editors regard NaNo as a waste of time, probably because their inbox is inundated with NaNovels on Dec 1st, sans editing. If I were on the receiving end of all those submissions rife with typos, spelling problems, bad grammar, and plot holes big enought to drive a tank through, I might not be such a fan of NaNo either. Remember, the hard work starts Dec 1st.

This year, I’m using NaNo to finish the stalled first draft of Blood Dragon II. I have around 13k written, so I’ll need 63k total to finish NaNo.

It’s not too late to sign up! If you’re interested, head on over to NaNoWriMo and get started. If you’d like to be Nano buddies, here’s my profile.

Now, it’s 11:15pm on November 1st, and I still haven’t written my first NaNo2011 word!

Six Sentence Sunday

Picture of Strappado, a medieval form of torture

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly forgot to add my blog to the list this time! This week’s Six is from the new opening of BLOOD DRAGON. I’m doing some fairly minor revisions before sending it out to more publishers. Still haven’t heard back from a couple, but I’m not sitting still with it.

Jaden has been kidnapped and is caged in a torture chamber. Her captors have promised to do whatever necessary to get the names of every vampire in the city out of her.

The heavy steel door opened, startling Jaden. Damn it! She had to be more alert. Letting them catch her off guard had already proven dangerous. Careful of her not-yet-healed knee, she stood from the concrete floor, and faced the door of the cell, waiting to see what they would do next. Certainly nothing good.