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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Listening to the Voices


I recently wrote my first fanfic (for those of you scratching your head at the term, it refers to fan Fiction- aka a story created using characters and settings from TV shows, movies, or even other author’s work. These are just for fun ;)). I did it as a favor/dare for a fanfic loving friend of mine.
One of the reasons that I have never been drawn to fanfic is I don’t like the restrictions of other people’s characters. But, I did find a nice benefit of doing this exercise.
TV characters have great voices.
Young writers are often told to go out and listen to conversations to find out how people speak. This is well and good except for one thing—we don’t write how people speak. We write what sounds like how people speak. Big difference. If you write like people really speak, you’ll bore the heck out of your readers.
But TV characters (and movie characters) speak like what sounds like how people speak. All the extra little stuff is gone. Plus, because a trained actor is reading those lines, differences in speakers are far easier to spot. Pauses, turns of phrase, little nuances that will make it easy for the reader to know who is speaking—even without tags.
Listen to what they say, as well as how they say it. “That sucked.” is saying the same idea as “Well, that didn’t go right.” But these two speakers are worlds apart.
So try this experiment next time you’re watching TV. Turn away from the set and just listen. Pay attention to tones, pitches, pauses, tics, anything that makes that character unique. Especially good are shows where characters (who you know) are “not themselves”. This could be literally (body swapping) or a matter of something being seriously wrong with them at that moment. How do their voices and word choices change?
You’ll be strengthening your own dialogue (and have an excuse to listen to TV ;)).

13 comments:

  1. Great post, Marie. It got me thinking. It's been years since I tried my hand at fanfic. It is actually a good way to see whether or not you can capture a character's true essense, ie. voice, action and motivation, because hardcore fans can spot inconsistency in a heartbeat. You mention characters who do not act like themselves to note how their voices and word choices change. I think another aspect of this not acting like themselves is when we as writers don't keep our characters consistent. Just like a fan spotting their favorite character doing or saying something he/she never would, a reader can spot our characters acting out of character as well. Once a reader gets to know a character, they want that character to say things like he/she always has. Readers like to be surprised by twists and turns in the storyline, not by inconsistencies in dialogue and voice.

    Sharon

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    1. Excellent points, Sharon! Nothing takes me out of a book faster than a character I've grown to know all of a suddent changing behavior without cause. makes me think the author did a "Oh crap, I need THIS to happen." and just dumped it in ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      Marie- at work- can't get onto blogger ;)

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  2. Nice point about the benefits of TV and fanfic. I find I learn a lot by listening to TV dialogue - how they speak, what they leave out, etc. I also learn a lot from how they cut scenes - always at the point where the question is asked or a choice is presented, but the answer is not given. Most TV shows are excellent at hooks.

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    1. OOO! I hadn't even thought of the hook aspect! Excellent point, Janet! And sooo true. Hmmm- another reason for TV (ok, not to watch more- just maybe I'll pay attention to what I do watch!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      Marie- at work- can't get onto blogger ;)

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  3. Great point, Marie! I'll watch something on the DVR in your honor tonight! ;)

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    1. LOL! I do feel honored, Cassi! As long as whatever you watch teaches you something ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  4. I remember a body swapping episode on the x files that I loved--and I was so impressed that the actors were able to sound like totally different characters.

    And my favorite example of dialog lessons I learned from TV comes from an episode of My So-Called Life. Two characters were having a conversation...except each was totally preoccupied with his own problems and wasn't really listening or responding to what the other character was saying, just spouting off about his own issues. It really got across the mood of each character without any of that information actually being in the dialog itself.

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  5. Excellent examples, Shoshana! I like the point about showing the mood by the action of the dialogue, rather than the words.

    More reasons for TV! ;)

    Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  6. Great idea, Marie. I will try that! I started writing fan fiction in grade school. I did three short stories about LHOTP with illustration and handed them out to my fifth grade friends. They asked for more. Which was cool, but by the third, they were so over it. LOL. GoT dialogue is wonderful for people writing fantasy, BTW!
    -Kara

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    1. That's great that you were writing so early, Kara! I could see where Game of Thrones would probably be a fabu source of dialogue and cliff hangers ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  7. Sounds like a good idea. I think I'll try it out one of these evenings, although my wife may look at me strangely.

    I started out by writing fan fic (HP) and discovered how much I enjoy writing fiction. You're right about the restrictive nature of using someone else's characters, which is why I used all new characters and a new plot line.

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    1. LOL! Just tell her it's all in the name of research ;). I'm with you though- I want my own characters that I can mess up however I want!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  8. I got my start writing fanfiction for my favorite video games - Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

    I actually think that the restrictions that you mention are a plus for a new writer. Not having to focus on world building allows the writer to focus on the story, dialogue, etc.

    Although my concentration is now on original works, I am still putting the finishing touches on my most recent fanfic. I still get a thrill when someone comments on one of my stories and tells me that I "nailed" the dialogue or characterization.

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