Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23) wrote,
Eildon Rhymer

Writing skills I wished I had: no. 1 - Voices

(Yeah, yeah, I doubt I'll ever get organised enough to write a number 2, but I have to at least start this thing by creating an appearance of organisation.)

I was thinking yesterday about a Firefly fanfic I read once. I can't remember the plot. All I remember is a character waking up after being unconscious, and lying there with their eyes closed, as everyone else was talking around them. Every character said only one line, and not a single one of those lines was attributed. They didn't even include cheap catch-phrases. Even so, the reader knew exactly who was saying what. I was just so totally in awe of it.

You see, I cannot write Firefly fanfic. Admittedly, I've never tried, but I'm sure I couldn't do it. I could come up with plot ideas. I can analyse thoughts and feelings and angst until the cows came home. But I couldn't write the dialogue.

The trouble is, I'm just not good at voices and accents. My French teacher at school said that I was "deaf to accents." I think this is true. I still speak in the way I learnt from my mum when I was a baby. I've lived since I was 4 in the south of England, yet I still use my mum's northern vowel sounds, even though I used to get laughed at at school for it. In contrast, virtually everyone else at school who arrived from the north, or from America, pretty soon adapted and took on the local accent.

Apart from those northern vowels, I speak pretty much BBC English. I'm educated and middle class. In addition, I spent my childhood reading historical novels, Tolkien and legends. I've done historical re-enactments, role-playing games, and silly medieval things, which has given me a tendency to a rather archaic turn of phrase. I don't use much slang, and I don't swear. (I don't object to hearing them, but I just don't say them, and see no reason to change that.)

The result is that I can only write characters who sound a bit like me. High fantasy is fine. I can do "High" speech at the drop of hat. I can write intellectual middle class English people, no problem. I can write Jedi. But I can't write street-wise people, or hard-bitten cops, or macho military types. I can't even bring myself to write swear words, even if a character really ought to be saying one.

So Dark is Rising fanfic is completely fine by me (except when it comes to Welsh characters). I can do Tolkien, Star Wars (Jedi, I mean. I can't do Han Solo.) I coped okay with X-Files, since Mulder and Scully, although American, didn't sound an awful lot different from people over here. They were educated professionals, and didn't use much slang.

Even so, even though I say I can do those things, I am fairly sure that all the characters sound like me. I don't think you could take some dialogue out of context in one of my stories, and immediately know who was saying it, just by the voice. When writing, I often feel that I'm "channelling" the characters. They are telling me how they feel, what they want to do. They are telling me the content of what they want to say. But I am the one trasmuting that into words, so their thoughts and feelings are said in my voice.

Or so I think. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on myself. I don't know. All I know is that, when doing a second draft of an original piece of fiction, once, I was reduced to listing the characters, and writing beside each name some turns of phrase that they were particularly fond of, so I could force the voices to sound a little different from each other. It felt very wrong, though. I feel that this is something that should come naturally, and it doesn't.

And I wish it did! I really wish it did!
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