Finding an Author’s Voice

Writing a novel is indeed not as easy as it would seem. If you have already read my recent blog posts, you will know I’m on the 100 days to my first draft of a novel course by the Write Practice.

Submitting around 5000 words every Friday and critiquing at least three other people’s submissions. Just reading 15 to 20,000 words of other people’s first drafts, it does highlight things about the craft of telling a story that you had not yet considered.

Of course, there’s point of view, past tense, and for myself, there is the grammar: Ending sentences with prepositions and seeing comma splices all over the place, for me does produce an irritation, but there’s also dialogue.

When reading dialogue that someone else is saying with either profound accents or under some considerable stress, and reflecting this in the text does cause the flow of reading to have a hickup. Alternatively, even stop and have to go back and reread it, as I did in one case:

“Brian, I’m sure,” said Tom. “Pwease ret me goooooo!” answered Brian.

I’m not trying to say this is horrid, but my attempt to show this would be:

With maximum command in his voice, Tom said, “Brian, I’m sure,” as he held Brian’s neck as tightly as he could. Brian then struggled to answer, with much distortion in his voice, he said, “Please let me go!”

Concerning accents: One of my characters in my novel is from the south of France and in the UK. I do know a Southern French woman and can say that her English is remarkably good. Much better than my two to three phrases of French. Her accent is still profound, as is the character in my novel but I’m not adding any difference to the English text but using the description of the way she said it as I found in this link here; Writing dialogue.

More on Dialogue

Some suggestions on how a conversation operates in actual life:

When actual people say things, they look for a response. On the other hand, when they hear things, real people don’t always answer.

For example, someone will say something like, “Oh, it’s a beautiful day, today!” and then wait for the other person to return. Ordinarily, the other person says, “Yeah, it’s gorgeous, right?” But sometimes the other person doesn’t say anything at all. They grunt or roll their eyes or stare out of the window.

People learn how to do this as teens, and it’s a beautiful way to show underlying tension.

But, this isn’t fundamentally the end of the conversation, because actual people talk when no one is listening. Even when people don’t reply; real people keep talking a lot anyway.

This behaviour is an exceptional way to show annoyance if your character’s addressing someone, or insecurity if they can’t stand the sound of silence. It can even show some social clumsiness if they can’t pick up on some social signals.

On the opposite side, there are times when someone doesn’t talk at all. Sometimes, real people are too mad or too nervous or too moody or too much of a youngster to speak.

Don’t make your characters talk if they don’t want it!

Dialogue

I am just starting working seriously on my writing, and I do go into coffee shops, eavesdrop on others conversations, and go home and write down the different ways people start and navigate a conversation.

This has helped me begin to understand how real dialogue worked, but it wasn’t enough. Before I could still write a conversation, and I had to ask WHY. Why does this character say this thing? Why did that character reply like that? How did they arrive on this subject in the first place?

I eavesdropped on conversations for a few months. It did seem a little creepy at first, but I wasn’t leaning over trying to hear. All I was doing was hearing voices that people were vocalising on the next table. It was difficult not to hear them. But it’s taught me so much about how real dialogue works.

For instance, real people do say random things.

As writers, we want our characters to talk about things central to our plot, but humans are pretty weird. They don’t talk about important things. More often than not, they talk about mundane things like the weather and the fact that their football team lost a match last week.

To write realistically random dialogue without losing track of your plot, have your characters begin a conversation about something random, and then circle around to the critical parts of your plot. But, don’t just have a full conversation on the weather today.