The Texture of Language and Character

(Note: I wrote this post for our September theme of texture. Due to scheduling confusion, it didn’t appear but I kind a like it so here it is… a little late.)

 

Awhile ago I discovered the awesomeness of streaming through the power of my Prime membership. There are a lot of plusses: watching commercial-free episodes on my own schedule is huge; the ability to see and feel character arcs; then of course there’s the pause feature, and the ability to go back and see a certain scene again.

Over time I’ve noticed something else.

When I first started watching Deadwood I was shocked. It’s set in the late 1800’s, and I know for a fact no one ever dropped the f-bomb on Gunsmoke. It felt course. Raw. Unfinished. 

Then I began to get used to it. I got past the language and began to see the characters. Care about them. Feel their struggles, their failures and their triumphs. The characters were course. Raw. Unfinished.

And then I began dropping the f-bomb more frequently myself. In my writing and in conversation. The first couple of times I said the word aloud I’m pretty sure I surprised the people I was with. I know I surprised myself. If that’s a word you’re not used to, it’s impossible to unhear it.

I had managed to not fall into the Downton Abbey folderol. (Get that last word? Definitely not a Deadwood word.) I streamed that series and slipped into a pattern of thinking and speaking that was smooth. Refined. Polished. 

As were the characters. (Granny had some of the best lines!)

We often hear about sharp dialogue. My memory may be off, but I think Gilmore Girls was known for it.

George Pelecanos is a best-selling author I don’t read. I tried one of his books, The Night Gardener, and while I thought some of his characterization strong, the language put me off. After Deadwood, I might give him another go.

There is texture to language. And character.

A character who is flat simply needs more texture. A history that gives them vernacular. A language of their own, of their times, and of their heart.

Can you tell? I just finished re-watching all of Downton Abbey. (The f-bomb is unlikely to drop any time soon.)

What about you? Have you felt the hard edges of words from characters who are on the edge and hide little? Or the silky feeling from those who are restrained and might hide volumes?

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

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Author: Peg Brantley

With the intent to lend her stories credibility, Peg is a graduate of the Aurora Citizens’ Police Academy, attended the Writers’ Police Academy conference, has interviewed crime scene investigators, FBI agents, human trafficking experts, obtained her Concealed Carry Permit, studied diverse topics from arson dogs to Santeria, and hunted down real life locations that show up in her stories.

6 thoughts on “The Texture of Language and Character”

  1. I just finished listening to Tana French’s The Trespasser. She has a gift for dialogue. No spoilers here so if you like her, I’d recommend the audiobook. It’s probably one of the best narrated books I’ve ever listened to.

  2. I try to pay attention to this when I craft characters. I’m working on a new one, and the one thing I noticed right away is that her dialogue has a much harder edge than any of the others I’ve written. No f-bombs – yet. But coming from her, they wouldn’t surprise me. The worst is when a character uses a “tone” that is completely not matched to the type of person. Like a petty street thief using Downton Abbey words. Just wrong.

  3. The last audio book that I LOL enjoyed was “The Rosie Project.” I can’t recall the author’s name, but the reader was absolutely brilliant, conveying the author’s voice through his spot-on words. Word choices make all the difference in tone.

  4. Hysterical, Peg. Some of my characters have rough edges. In the Kent mysteries, they are rough, but within the confines of the cozy (no F’s allowed, I don’t think). My Swope mysteries, a whole different world. She’s on the edge in Miami and sometimes, well nothing says something like a well placed…amazing Anglo-Saxon word.

  5. Hahaha, I’ve totally felt this way after watching a good show or reading a good book! I think when we hear the word “voice” it’s easy to affiliate it purely with the MC of a story, but really every single character needs to have a distinct voice. And the best way to do this with characters who aren’t the narrators is to give them unique dialogue. This is something I’ve been working on with my own writing!

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