Let the Characters Speak

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Welcome
* Let the Characters Speak
* Update on the Laptop Drama
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“‘I get pleasure out of it,’ says the pugnacious Harlan Ellison about typing on his Olympia SG3. This toylike aspect, the fun of using the machine itself, is indistinguishable from its utility as a writer’s tool.” Jeff Ward (see Of Interest)

“And therefore education at the University mostly worked by the age-old method of putting a lot of young people in the vicinity of a lot of books and hoping that something would pass from one to the other, while the actual young people put themselves in the vicinity of inns and taverns for exactly the same reason.” Terry Pratchett

Let the Characters Speak

Imagine telling a friend you just returned from Mexico where you had a wonderful time witnessing Day of the Dead activities.

And the friend says, “Well, no, actually you just returned from Northern Ireland where you witnessed the aftermath that still lingers after The Troubles of last century.”

Would you accept the annoying former friend’s verion of the story? Or would you want to do something horrible to him?

That’s how your characters feel when you step on their story too.

My current character uses phrases like “for free.” I would never do that because what the speaker means is “free.”

She also would never say “tepid,” a variation of “warm.” Due to her upbringing, she knows only cold, cool, warm, hot and scalding hot. She’s probably heard the word “tepid” but she would never think of using it in a sentence. That just isn’t who she is.

Likewise, she says “Wow” and “Anyway” now and then. I use “anyway” myself at times as a kind of transition, but I don’t use it because she does anymore than she uses words that I use because I use them. She and I are two different characters.

And that brings us to the meat of the topic. It’s the characters’ story, not yours. And the characters speak with their own voice, not yours.

In YOUR story you’re sitting at your computer writing down what happens in the CHARACTERS’ story: the story that they, not you, are living.

Your job is to write what happens and how the characters react to it in dialogue and action as you run through the story with them. So you may do so, the characters have invited you into the story as an observer and recorder. But you are not integral to the story.

Yesterday, another writer posted an article in which he wrote that every artist has a unique creative voice. Technically, he was correct, but “authorial voice” is very much an overall consideration, like “authorial style.”

For example, my own authorial voice and style stretches across all the series and one-offs I write, and across every genre I write in. Your voice and style aren’t anything to worry about or fret over. They are simply part of who you are, like freckles.

Much has also been written about being sure the reader can discern (my current POV character would have said “tell” instead) one character from another. Of course, you do that at first with the character’s gender and name.

You can do the same thing with a physical tag like a limp handshake or a twisted nose. Or with a repeated action tag like a characters scratching his head above his right ear or pushing her glasses up her nose, or pointing at someone as he talks, or whatever.

In other words, by writing the characters as you find them.

Just be sure to be consistent, attaching that same defining tag to the same character each time. (Another good reason to write, not make-up, what happen and to use a reverse outline.)

You can also achieve character recognition with the individual character’s voice. By writing what you hear.

Even characters from the same geographical area will have minor differences in their speech patterns. Maybe one often prefaces what he says with “See,” (or “See?”) or follows it with the always-annoying grin and “That’s my story and….” Just as if nobody else ever said that before.

In one story I wrote awhile back, one particularly annoying character who had a habit of stressing (indicated to the reader with italics, which is why I don’t use italics to indicate unspoken thoughthttps://hestanbrough.com/you-dont-need-thought-tags/) every other word or so of every sentence he ever uttered.

But as you already know if you write authentic stories into the dark, enabling readers to recognize the characters by their voice is an extremely easy thing to do. Just

  • write what the characters say, and
  • write it the way they say it.

No authorial intrusion, no embellishment or “improvement.” Every time the author itrudes, s/he is altering and destroying the authentic story, not improving it.

Don’t overlay your own voice, creative or otherwise, on the character’s voice. That simply isn’t your place.

If you revise what the characters say or how they say it with what YOU would say or how YOU would say it in the same situation, you’re no better than one of those people who appear to listen attentive as you speak, then smile condescendingly and say something like, “I see. What you meant to say (or “were trying to say”) is….”

I usually grit my teeth, smile, nod and walk away. What I would like to say is, “Um, no, you stupid [expletive deleted]. What I meant to say is exactly what I said. If I’d meant something else, I would have said something else.”

Let your character speak. You (and your “voice”) don’t exist in the story. You are invisible in spirit and in actuality, like the person who sits at that little desk in a courtroom recording what’s being said. S/he’s there, but s/he’s external to the proceedings.

Your only purpose in service to the story is to record what happens and how the characters’ react. Nothing more.

Update on the Laptop Drama

Eventually the little laptop, unplugged, shut down. When I plugged it in again and turned it on, it was operable again. Yay me.

In the aftermath, I remembered I could have simply held down the power button for a few seconds (until the thing turned off) and it would have rebooted fine. (And thank to Matt P for the tip.) But I didn’t think of that at the time. I was frantic over possibly losing the couple of hundred words I’d just typed.

In the interim, I also ordered another inexpensive 11.6″ HP X360. The keyboard is perfect for me.

So now I’ll have those two (the one that temporarily died will sit on a shelf for awhile as a second backup so it can think about what it did) plus my old writing ‘puter as another backup.

Thanks to my donors and readers, all of whom helped enable the purchase.

I feel a little like Harlan Ellison, who on the date of his death had several “spare” Olympia SG3 typewriters sitting on shelves. He didn’t want to risk one becoming inoperable when he had writing to do.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Machine In Between

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1200

Writing of Blackwell Ops 13: Jenna Crowley

Day 1…… 3815 words. To date……3815
Day 2…… 3116 words. To date…… 6931
Day 3…… 3090 words. To date…… 10021
Day 4…… 4073 words. To date…… 14094
Day 5…… 3447 words. To date…… 17541
Day 6…… 4403 words. To date…… 21944

Fiction for November…………………… 4403
Fiction for 2023………………………… 318644
Fiction since August 1………………… 208500
Nonfiction for November……………… 1960
Nonfiction for the year……………… 229850
Annual consumable words………… 549390

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 6
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 7
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 77
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 235
Short story collections…………………… 31

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Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.