I know that they teach us not to insult people when we are growing up, and that’s good advice for dealing with real people. Really, if you want to get along in this world, insults aren’t going to do it for you. However, when it comes to characters in stories, insults are quite handy. Characters need to be insulted now and then – it adds to the conflict.
We all do it. Most of us without thinking about it. We change the way that we speak based on who we are talking to. There are the obvious times – when talking to babies. Then there are the less obvious situations. You probably don’t realize that you use different vocabulary when talking to your boss than to your co-workers. And I know you don’t notice the subtle changes in grammar either. But they’re there.
Try this: Go someplace public where you can eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation and listen carefully. I’m not interested in what other people are saying here, but how they are saying it. Listen to how they form their phrases, when they switch speakers, how often the over-talk each other, etc. Now go one step further and write it down – exactly as they said it – and see what you’ve got.
A mess – that’s what. Even your six-year-old nephew would know that’s bad writing. How can that be? It was a real conversation, why doesn’t it read like one?
The holy grail of writing is having readers who get lost in your story. When your beta readers forget to make comments, that’s a good thing. Really it is. Most writing advice is about how to achieve that wondrous state with great words and perfect sentences. They tell you things like – don’t use cliches or adverbs, they throw your readers out of the story. Be careful about the slang you use, modern slang will throw your readers if your story isn’t set in modern times. Even names have to be right because a mismatched name will throw your readers.
American Sign Language (ASL) does not have a written form. So this post isn’t going to be about writing ASL. Rather, it’s about the joy and challenge of talking about writing (in English) with Native ASL speakers – in this case two 2nd generation Deaf Adults who also happen to be avid readers in the genre I write.