The Dirty Birds are talking about sounding today. Wait…that’s not right. We’re talking about the “See How It Sounds” chapter of Self-Editing for Fiction by Renni Browne and Dave King.
Kate: I think Zoe wrote that opening.
Zoe: WHO? ME? This chapter again talks about word choice. And, in part, how word choice in dialogue/interior monologue can GET RIDDA ALL THOSE ANNOYIN’ SPELLIN’S.
Kate: Oooh! The Dialect Dilemma. *pops popcorn*
Ana: As a non-native not-living-in-an-English-speaking-country person…. I can honestly say I’ve never attempted dialects! I’m happy if I can get ‘normal’ speech right.
Zoe: I, admittedly, have a few I rely on—the ones most people say: “gonna,” that sort of thing.
Ana: I classify ‘gonna’ ‘wanna’ etc as colloquial.
Kate: I like colloquial, or casual language. In one of my WIPs, one of the main characters is French first language. He speaks with an accent, but I only occasionally reference it. And rarely change the spelling of a word to reflect it.
Ana: I mostly got my dialogue skills, or lack thereof, from dialogue in movies, tv shows and books. So when they’re talking about ‘hearing how it sounds’ and that my ‘ear will know’ if something sounds natural… Yeah, my only reference point is the kind of artificial thing I’m trying to create.
Kate: But dialogue itself isn’t natural. If I’m wondering, I write it out as completely as I can, then I go back and eliminate any repetition that isn’t necessary for emphasis, and anything that makes me bored or impatient, (unless that’s what I’m going for).
Zoe: Do either of you read your stuff out loud, as the chapter suggests?
Ana: I don’t really trust my ear that much. I also don’t want to picture my characters with my accent. They obviously sound much cooler than me.
Kate: I don’t read anything out loud, but I keep thinking I should.
Zoe: I’ve tried, but I get bored really quickly.
(Ana: I know, right? That’s what I always think when people tell me they read their whole ms out loud to catch typos.)
Kate: I find I can’t hear myself. And I hate how I sound when I’m recorded, so I know I won’t listen to it long enough to get anything out of it. I know, grow up, right?
Zoe: I’ve tried using the text-to-speech function on the computer too, but I found I didn’t catch any more typos with that than I did reading in my head. Reading from the back forward was better for that. (And when you’re listening to a computer read aloud, you’re not really getting the “how’s it sound” experience.)
Kate: I find that really works well, the back to front thing.
I thought it was interesting when they spoke about letting your characters misunderstand each other every once in a while, because it can be more illustrative of character than if the dialogue just went from Point A to Point B.
Ana: That’s also something that stuck with me through the years after first reading this book.
Zoe: Yes, real life conversations don’t move smoothly from Point A to B to C. There are misunderstandings (willful and accidental), interruptions, questions that people want to avoid answering. And it all adds tension and life to the exchange.
Kate: I think that keeping it in mind that people tend to say things in as few words as possible, except when they are in love with the sound of their own voice, helps to keep dialogue more natural. People use fragments, or shortened sentences, all the time in real life. We just have to excise the other, boring bits.
Ana: People in love with the sound of their own voice are just as boring in fiction as they are in real life.
Zoe: In fiction, I can at least DNF the book. In real life, being as frank as “I don’t need to hear all this?” or “Can you get to the point?” only gets me labeled “rude.”
Ana: Don’t you just hate when other people waste your time?
Zoe: And energy! If you’re an introvert, it takes energy to listen. And you can’t just not listen. (Though dear god I try.)
Kate: I’ve gotten very good at non-committal answers and guessing at what’s going on.
Ana: But in fiction we don’t want to be guessing what’s going on, so best to keep those sentences short.
Kate: Yes. Unless you have a character that you want to portray as self-absorbed and boring. But don’t spend much time on him, please!
Zoe: Yes, just a little seasoning will give us the characterization.
Kate: Therefore, short sentences, natural rhythms, don’t overwhelm us with spellings meant to convey dialect (do that with word choice instead). Am I missing anything, Birdies?
Ana: I’m still missing my cabana boy. (Watch how Kate is going to evade answering that….)
Zoe: *cough* Yeah…and always use the words your characters would use.
Kate: Tone your dialogue to your character’s intelligence, background, and culture. (No cabana boys here–Zoe must have him.)
Zoe: (He’s probably taken off with the dialogue mechanic.)