Disclaimer: These are my notes. I am human. As such, I fully acknowledge that my notes are imperfect. Feel free to correct me if you see any glaring errors or misrepresentations.
NS: You have to be consistent. Don’t shock your readers by changing things up part way through your novel. Don’t write phonetic dialect or idiom. It’s too much.
MF: There is no right and no wrong. Everything is a matter of taste. Chaucer would have probably hated Shakespeare. Does that make either of them wrong, or one better than the other?
SF: Make sure your dialogue is pronounceable. There are problems with other languages, like Gaelic, in which nothing can be sounded out, or Japanese, in which everything is contextual.
NS: Write out the dialogue from movies whose characters reflect your protagonist. Reflect the evolution of your character.
Q: What if all your characters are from the same small town? How do you make them distinct?
MF: Look at your friends. You can identify each of them by specific catch phrases or tics. Go someplace in your town or city where you don’t normally go. Listen. Learn to love how people talk.
NS: Bond two characters through dialogue similarities. Have a third party interpret for your reader.
Q: Any tips of how to keep consistency in your characters? In one novel, I had to tone down the protagonist’s swearing, but it was a part of his character. In the end, I only had him swear when he was upset, but that could come off as jarring.
NS: Edit for voice by character. Make a pass for each.
Q: What about using other languages?
NS: Intersperse them in the text. Try not to have long passages in other languages. Use another character as interpreter.
Q: How do you avoid caricatures or stereotypes? For example, I have a character much like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid.
MF: Avoid stereotypes if you can. If you can’t, make sure there’s a reason for it. With regard to Miyagi, if someone watches the Karate Kid and comes away thinking that Miyagi is uneducated or backward, they’ve missed the point of the character. He was betrayed by his country, lost his wife in tragic circumstances, and has a disorder as a result. He’s chosen isolation as protection. He’s rejected the society that betrayed him.
Q: Is there a way to ease off dialect over the course of the novel?
NS: We’re back to consistency again. If it’s too much at the beginning, it’s too much, period.
MF: If you want to write a character with thick dialect, then do it. Don’t tease. Write the book you want to write.
Q: What about multiple different languages?
SF: It depends. In a science fiction setting, you could have something like a universal translator, but you have to make it plausible. Otherwise, think about syntax, word order. What are the differences between the languages we speak on this planet?
Q: I’m writing a YA historical. It’s historically accurate for the protagonist to call his parents mother and father, but writing it that way felt awkward.
MF: If it feels awkward to you, chances are it will feel awkward to your audience, too. If you want to address it, do so head on. Show it. Hang a lantern on it. Reveal it’s relevance by contrast. Do people of other classes refer to their parents in the same way?
I hope you enjoyed this opening salvo of When Words Collide (WWC). I’ll be continuing the transcription of my notes, one session each weekend, until I run out of notes.
WWC set a military pace. Most sessions were one hour and though intended to end at about 50 minutes, initially, most session ran overtime. There were no breaks for meals with sessions running from 10 am through to 9 or 10 pm. Special events often ran later.
In many cases, I had to arrive late or leave early to catch the next session with enough time to hit the bathroom, or grab a quick snack at the commissary.
Next week: The Anthology Jam. All about how to get published in an anthology.