As a thought on writing today, I will share a recent insight I found into the similarity between writing (particularly writing dialogue) and language learning. Like learning a new language, writing dialogue requires not only the proper words, meanings, etc., but also the feel of natural speech. In fact, sometimes the more important element of dialogue (and language learning) is the rhythm, the musicality of the speech.
In language learning, this looks like a practice my father used while learning French. He would choose a phrase with particular rhythms and phonemes he found difficult, then he would repeat that phrase until he mastered it. For example: “Je ne croix pas que ca soix possible.” In this phrase, you have the difficult French “r”, a complex grammar structure and the unusual French vowel sound of ‘wah’. By rehearsing this phrase (among others), my father learned to so accurately imitate the proper rhythm and sound of French, that he is now mistaken for a Frenchman when he visits Paris.
Back to writing dialogue. The fact is, dialogue can be the best or worst part of a novel. Hemingway, Salinger, Fitzgerald, these guys could write novels made up entirely of dialogue and keep us interested. Salinger actually did. Then again, sometimes dialogue can be stilted, flat, every-character-has-the-same-stupid-voice so that I’ve been sent running from some otherwise perfectly decent books.
So, how do we imbue our dialogues with life? How do we go the way of Salinger instead of most fantasy fiction? Read. it. out. loud. If the rhythm is wrong read aloud, then it’s wrong. If the wording is stilted and unbelievable when read aloud, fix. it. Also, dig into your characters as you write: who they are, how they move and think and feel, so that each character has a unique voice. The reader should be able to identify your characters based solely on what they say and how they say it. If you write a dialogue and there is no distinction between the mannerisms, the figures of speech, or the basic worldviews of the different participants in the dialogue, then it’s not real dialogue. It’s just you talking to yourself.
I tested this theory on two of my characters today and discovered two things: One, that one of my characters was simply speaking as I would speak, was really just an extension of myself. I’ll probably back this character off into being a narrator. The second character, through her body language, her terseness and her sense of controlling the scene, revealed herself quiet suddenly to be the villain of my story. Surprise! I discovered it because I wrote without trying to guide her in any one direction, but simply followed where she naturally wanted to go.
Today: Success! I wrote without overthinking or self-editing and made a new discovery in my characters.
Today’s Project: Keep at it. Write at least once more and get my characters out of the apartment they’ve been so willing to hide in up till now. I need to get them into conversation with others to figure out more of who they are.
Today’s Writing Reference: I read this today and love it: http://onehundredonebooks.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/jonathan-franzens-10-rules-of-writing/