How Well do You Listen?

Authors, as you sit down to feast this Turkey Day, I have something I want you to all ponder.  Many of us will have family over from different areas or be the ones visiting.  Even if you aren’t going anywhere or having anyone over and will be dining alone on a dry turkey sandwich, listen.

Listen to the people around you.  Listen to the people on the television.  Listen to your neighbors, friends, and even strangers.  Every writer worth his salt is constantly refining his craft.  No one ever reaches the pinnacle of writing and no longer has anything he can improve.

What I want you to listen for is how people speak.  We all know the basic mechanics of speech, but often times how our characters speak can become mechanical if we aren’t careful.  Or, equally bad, we have characters, regardless of gender or ethnicity, who all speak the same.

Listen for the ‘ain’ts’, the ‘finnas’, the ‘yourns’.  Human beings, despite knowing better, rarely, if ever, speak consistent, proper English.  We are a wealth of contradictions, choosing the wrong word because it feels right or it fits in context better.

I know I’ve been guilty of this deadly writing sin (of mechanical writing), but I do find myself listening a little bit more when I hear an interesting accent or when I’m speaking to someone from another country or another state.  I try my best to go back over text and rearrange syntax in some characters’ speech.  It gives them a little more personality, makes them a little brighter.

And not just with character speech should we be trying to make these adjustments.  For those of you who haven’t, I would suggest reading Zora Neale Hurston.  Really, pick up anything she’s written.  Every page is filled with poetry.  I only wish I could write like her.  Her prose infuses characters with such a wealth of depth and personality even without them having to say a word.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise the woman was also an anthropologist.

Here in Southeastern Michigan, one of ours is adding the letter ‘s’ on the end of certain businesses.  I don’t, but I hear people say ‘Meijers’, ‘Fords’, and ‘Targets’ often.  I even had the opportunity to edit a manuscript where all the major characters were Indian and the author misspelled certain words as a means of illustrating the characters’ accents.

That’s all for now.  Best of luck to those of you who’re working on NaNoWriMo projects.  I know I’ve tried and will fall well short of 50,000 words, but at least I’ve finally given it a go.



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