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January 12, 2010 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – Let Your Voices Be Heard

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction.” Be still class and calm thyselves down. Really – we are as usual on a very tight four to five minute blog-hoppers’ attention span schedule, and there is very much to cover. Stop with the gossiping, quit flirting, turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the twittering, get your faces out of Facebook, adjust your monitors, straighten your undies, have a seat and pay close attention. I’m in no mood for any of your usual hoodlumlike scallywag behavior today.

Ahem. Thank you. Thank you kindly. That’s better. In this session we will discuss adding realism to your characters by letting their “voices” be heard.

Too often an author forgets to include subtle hints within the prose and/or dialog passages that let the reader know what the characters sound like when they speak. While it is not necessary for all characters within a novel to have clearly delineated distinctive “voices”, it is a good writing habit to develop your main characters to the point where when they talk, the reader can “hear” their voices.

As is my usual want and propensity, I will give you an example to kick things off. Here’s a rather stilted and dry dailog – and let’s assume these are main characters that are having a conversation.

Mary said, “John, have you gone crazy? You know I don’t like basketball. Two tickets to the Miami Heat game – that’s your idea of a great date?”

“Well,” John said, ” I just figured …”

“Figured nothing,” Mary said with a hand up in a ‘stop right there’ signal, “It’s the same night as the open air Garth Brooks concert too, and you know I’ve been asking to go to that.” Mary pouted.

“But Mary …” John said, coughing, not quite sure what to say, his head hung.

“But nothing … that’s all you got to say?

***

So. We know what they are saying, even can feel some of their feelings, hmm? But we don’t have any idea what their voices sound like. Now here’s an example of the same conversation using simplistic, rather sophomoric techniques to introduce the sound of their voices…

Mary said in her high pitched voice, “John, have you gone crazy? You know I don’t like basketball. Two tickets to the Miami Heat game – that’s your idea of a great date?”

“Well,” John said, his baritone voice sounding raspy, ” I just figured …”

“Figured nothing,” Mary said with a hand up in a ‘stop right there’ signal, “It’s the same night as the open air Garth Brooks concert too, and you know I’ve been asking to go to that.” Mary pouted.

“But Mary …” John said, not quite sure what to say, looking and sounding embarrassed, with his head hung. He coughed and looked pitiful and sorry for himself.

“But nothing,” Mary squealed in frustration, “That’s all you got to say?”

***

Now we have some idea what Mary and John’s voices sound like, but we got the information in the dialog tags, which is the easy and obvious way to deliver the information. Simplistic writing. Let’s up the bar. Here’s an example of writing style that lets us know the sound of their voices without resorting to “telling” the information within the tags.

“John, have you gone crazy?” Mary slapped her thighs and shook her head in frustration. “You know I don’t like basketball. Two tickets to the Miami Heat game – that’s your idea of a great date? Eeeww!”

“Well,” John said, ” I just figured …” I’m in trouble, he thought, I can always tell when Mary’s voice rises even higher than usual.

“Figured nothing,” Mary said with a hand up in a ‘stop right there’ signal, “It’s the same night as the open air Garth Brooks concert too, and you know I’ve been asking to go to that.” Mary pouted.

John coughed a couple times, exaggerating in hopes of sympathetic pursuasion. “But Mary …” His voice trailed off as his face bloomed in embarrassed frustration and he hung his head.

“But nothing. And don’t go playing sick boy on me. I know you got a little sniffle, so what?” Her little pout turned into a demure wink. “Makes that low manly voice of yours sound raspy and kinda sexy.” Got him with that, she thought, observing the twinkle in his blue-gray eyes.

Much better, hmm? Now we have a pretty good idea what Mary and John sound like, and the information is told through the characters thinking, observing and interracting with each other through the story line.

All right, that’s just about it today, only one more small item to cover, we will come back to this subject again as there are volumes of sub-topics in this area of writing, but I have a teacher’s lounge engagement with Ms. Flanders for tea and crumpets and spicy inuendo, so I’ll just quickly …

Class? Class! You four back there – pipe down! I want real sounding dialog in your stories, not disruptive chatter in my class!

~~~~~

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28 Comments

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  1. Thelma Banks / Jan 12 2010 6:50 am

    Sorry for talking in class, Professor Old Silly! 😉 LOL – Enjoyed the class, really – I see where the 3rd example is more subtle and still informative.

  2. Barbra Kelser / Jan 12 2010 6:52 am

    Good class and examples. I thought the 2nd one was good, but I see where the 3rd one gets the job done better without being so obvious. Neat.

  3. tdryden1 / Jan 12 2010 7:07 am

    Okay, okay – By George I think I’ve got it! (you know it won’t be for long) LOL… I love how you do that. I think I just my fingers overload my brain. I have to get my idea down before I forget. I really don’t know why you can’t read my mind! haha (wink, wink)

    Great class and thanks.

  4. John Standish / Jan 12 2010 7:07 am

    I THINK I get it, lol. Not a writer, but I do enjoy these classes – teaches me how to discern skilled writing from amateurish. And the humor is always here on Free Spirit. Just gotta love it. 😉

  5. Cactus Annie / Jan 12 2010 7:13 am

    Another great class, Prof Old silly! I keep all these in a file – cuz ONE day I’m going to write me a book, yes sir! 🙂 thanks for the tutoring lessons.

  6. Stanley Berber / Jan 12 2010 7:41 am

    Zzzzzzz, (snoooore), Zzzzzzzz … huh? Wha? Oh – sorry Prof, sure I’ll stay after class and review the material. 😦

    LOL – enjoyed the class for real, as usual. 😉

  7. Helen Ginger / Jan 12 2010 7:49 am

    Always a fun class. I see why your classes are always packed. They’re short, sweet, and fun.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

  8. Marcus Franks / Jan 12 2010 7:53 am

    Tea and crumpets and “spicy inuendo”? Can I join you in the teacher’s lounge?

    • theoldsilly / Jan 12 2010 12:41 pm

      No, young man – Ms. Flander is all MINE – you stick to your studies!

  9. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Jan 12 2010 8:13 am

    Another good one, Marvin. I’m tweeting it…

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  10. Crystal Clear Proofing / Jan 12 2010 8:13 am

    Why do I always get nailed for talking in class?

  11. yvonne lewis / Jan 12 2010 8:21 am

    Thanks for another excellent lesson Marvin, when is the Easter Break?

    Yvonne,

  12. Terry Odell / Jan 12 2010 9:01 am

    Am going to borrow these ideas for my dialogue workshop in March. Thanks.

  13. quirkyloon / Jan 12 2010 9:51 am

    I think you should hold a creative writing course online.

    I’d pay for it! Gladly!

    Ooops, I did another “ly” word.

    I know how you loathe those words.

    hee hee

    • theoldsilly / Jan 12 2010 12:49 pm

      “Did I say I didn’t like them very muchly?” said the Old Silly slyly.

  14. Karen Walker / Jan 12 2010 10:10 am

    As always, concrete examples to show what it is your telling us to do. Thank you. Great class, teach.
    Karen

  15. ReformingGeek / Jan 12 2010 10:49 am

    Reffie approached Professor Silly with sad puppy-dog eyes. “Uh, Teach, will you take my doodling as the assignment”?

    Fun class as usual, Marvin.

  16. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Jan 12 2010 11:07 am

    Great tip! I’m still working on dialogue. Was told to make my main character more ‘snarky.’

  17. Michelle / Jan 12 2010 11:16 am

    Another great class Marvin, filled with examples of how we can improve upon dialogue. Thank you!
    Michelle

  18. tashabud / Jan 12 2010 11:22 am

    I feel deflated, prof. Old Silly! I see that I have to rewrite my novel yet again. Are you able tell that I’m saying the second sentence in my alto voice? You made this so easy and simple.

    I have to tell you that I noticed all the individual and distinctive voices that you’ve lent to each of your major characters in you book Owen Fiddler. By the way, I finished reading it the other day. I really like the ending. I’m glad it ended the way it did. I’ll be posting something about it in the near future. I’ll let you know when it gets posted at my Tasha’s Take blog. And, yes, I’ll be posting a review at Amazon.com also.

    • theoldsilly / Jan 12 2010 12:42 pm

      Hey thanks, Tasha! I’ll look forward to your post and the amazon review. Keep me posted, ok?

  19. theoldsilly / Jan 12 2010 12:47 pm

    Michelle, thanks and you’re welcome!

    Alex – go for the “snarkiest” you can, dude!

    Reffie, uh uh – no, the Old Silly’s not falling for those puppy dog eyes …. last time I did that you KNOW what happened … (wink)

    Karen – glad you enjoyed it, I appreciate the appreciation. 🙂

    Yvonne – Easter break is somewhere around Easter time, I think … have to check my schedule to be sure. 😉

    Crystal – I don’t know young lady, but let’s get a handle on that, hmm?

    Terry – Help yourself – I’m flattered!

  20. Keisha Johnson / Jan 12 2010 12:51 pm

    Just stumbled across this blog doing a Google search. Nice, easy to understand and helpful writing lesson. Loved it. I’ll have to come back here often!

  21. MadMadMargo / Jan 12 2010 2:27 pm

    I read every word! Thank you professor Silly.

  22. kissnatl / Jan 12 2010 6:51 pm

    TOS, I understand what you’re saying but must I go into all of that on my blog….or especially there?

    SMH

  23. Mason Canyon / Jan 12 2010 8:58 pm

    Sorry I’m late for class today Prof. It’s been one of “those” days. Enjoyed the class though. Very informative as always.

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