Character Help--Does this character's way of speaking take away from the story?
Okay, so I've got a character who uses slang . . . lots of slang. And she's a bit of a babbler--a quirk of hers. It's just the way she talks. She's a pixie, and in my world, pixies talk in slang (Or at least most of them do) And it's difficult to explain without showing it, so here's a bit of dialogue from her, an excerpt from my WIP Destiny's Bond, between Nixie (The slang thrower) and Arashi (the main hero, who also speaks in a bit of slang, though not as bad as Nixie). Bear in mind, this scene's still under revision:
"Dammit Nixie!" In a display of temper, he plopped down in the grass.
Confused beyond words, Nixie shadowed him. Celestials, she hadn't seen hound boy this sullen since Asami's betrayal. "C'mon, what's yer problem?" she asked. "Why are ya actin' like a big baby?"
That got her a glower. "I'm not actin' like a pup."
"Yes you are," she chided him. "You're actin' like a big giant pain in my butt." Wheeling around, she folded her arms and hunched her shoulders, imitating him. "Me big baby, upset 'cause Karissa chastised me for being mean to Whitey," she said in as deep a voice as she could.
A low growl rumbled behind her. "You're askin' for it, imp." Arashi's voice was quiet, a warning that he was on the verge of losing it.
"Oh, why don't ya just admit you were bein' an ass an' go apologize?" she asked, whirling on him.
"Apologize?" Arashi's complexion flushed deep red. "Why in Blazes should I apologize? I didn't say nuthin' or do nuthin' to anyone."
"You were mean to Whitey," she reminded him, smiling big. An angry Arashi she could deal with. It was a sullen Arashi she had trouble defunking.
Expression fuming, Arashi snarled, "How could I have possibly been mean to that . . . that . . ."
"Woman?" Nixie offered. "Female? Girl? Maiden? Damsel? Dame? Lady?" As Arashi narrowed his eyes on her, she continued slyly, "Beauty? Angel? Nymph? Jewel? Glittering--"
"Bitch!" Arashi exploded. "Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!"
"--pearl? Gorgeous siren? Stunning--"
"--rose bud? Tantalizing flower? Dazzling diamond--"
"BITCH! STUPID, ASININE BITCH!" Arashi shouted to the heavens before flopping onto his back and panting.
Choking on giggles, Nixie winged over to pat a furry ear. "There now, don't ya feel better?" she asked, all smiles. "Gettin' it out of yer system works wonders, don't it?"
What do you think? Does her way of talking take away from the scene? Or does it make her stand out? I'm asking only because, as I've been reading the forums here posted about dialogue (Specifically Dialect/Slang/Accents - to use or not to use) I've become a bit timid. I can't imagine Nixie without her unique way of speaking. But then, I don't want to jar readers, either. I've read books where slang is present with certain characters throughout, and I didn't have trouble imagining the voice simply because the slang was written out in the dialogue itself. In fact, I was rather pleased by having the dialogue's slang written out the way it'd been. But am I the exception? Is slang such as Nixie's too much?
Please, some insight or thoughts into this would be greatly appreciated.
I don't have a problem with the language,
but in large doses I might—especially is both characters are using it.
And my question is, what does it add to the story—or take away if it's
not there? Since it's a racial trait as against her choice of word use
it comes under the heading of accent, and in that a little goes a long
way. My personal recommendation is to simply make her unique, and likeable as a
character with a few specific language tics.
- - - - - - -"Dammit Nixie!" In a display of temper, he plopped down in the grass.
Confused beyond words, Nixie shadowed Shadowed? Seems too much like she's lying against him. I'd choose something less prone to misunderstanding. Perhaps, Joined him on the ground, or flopped down next to him?. him. Celestials, she hadn't seen hound boy this sullen since Asami's betrayal. This clearly you explaining, because she never thinks of herself as "she." In her POV her observation would be: "the boy hound hadn't seemed this confused since..."C'mon, what's yer problem?" Personally, I find "yer" a bit over the top, she asked. "Why are ya actin' like a big baby?"
"Yes you are," she chided him. " You're actin' like a big giant The reader knows what she meant, no sense telling the reader she chided him after they see her do it. And big giant? As against a little one? You may have gone beyond dialect. pain in my butt." Wheeling around, she folded her arms and hunched her shoulders, imitating him. "Me big baby, upset 'cause Karissa chastised me for being mean to Whitey," she said in as deep a voice as she could. To make the reader hear his words as you intend, move the tone its spoken in to in front of the dialog. Or leave tone out of it since she's imitating him. description is necessary, but while you're describing nothing is happening, so keep it to the necessary minimum so as not to slow the narrative.
A low growl rumbled behind her "You're askin' for it, imp." Arashi growled in warning. Arashi growled in warning.Arashi's voice was quiet, a warning that he was on the verge of losing it. She turned around, so we know he's behind her. And growled in warning says the same thing in fewer words for more impact. Don't over-explain. Let context and implication work for you. Too often you, the author are onstage with the characters, talking about them
"Oh, why don't ya just admit you were bein' an ass an' go apologize?" she asked, whirling on him. Doesn't the question mark identify it as a question? Why say it again in text? And, she first wheeled around and now she's whirling. You might want to tone that just a bit.
Thanks for the advice, Jay. You always seem to be the one answering questions for us newbies
I'll be taking your thoughts to heart, since you're obviously very informed on the Craft. And I know I've got a long way to go before I can consider myself efficient in writing fiction. Right now I'm still learning. And I won't give up in the face of more practice and studying. Thanks.
You're doing well. You just need to add some of the tricks of the trade. If you've not read either Dwight Swain or Deb Dixon, I'd suggest you spend a few evenings with them. Dwight Swain is the best I've found, in spite of being written fifty years ago. His Techniques of the Selling Writer is focused on the nuts and bolts issues of what makes a story work. For a sort of Swain Lite, you can download audio files of two of his workshops, one on writing and the other on characterization for about $6. Aside from the help he gives, it's worth the money for his commentary on editors, other writers, and killing people with a doorknob.
Another is Deb Dixon's GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict. It can be downloaded from any online bookseller, or ordered as a hard copy from Deb's website. It doesn't delve as deeply into the subject, but it's a bit better organized. Eventually, you want to read both, if for no other reason than a refresher course.
Thanks again, Jay. I've already read through Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer and have been recommending it to other fledgling writers I've reviewed on the site. So far I've gone through it twice, and I'm still trying to figure it out. But I guess that's what it takes if you're serious about learning the Craft.
I've also been reading a span of different authors to try and get a feel of the vast array of Voices out there. It's utterly fascinating to see the different techniques each individual uses. Some books have seemed haphazardly put together, yet a lot of people (myself included) love the stories. And some are even Bestsellers.
Ah, well. On to more discovering, I suppose.
Happy Writing, Jay!
Sometimes it's hard to tell if the dialect or accent you're using works in the story without finishing the story. That's because the intrusiveness, to the reader, depends in part on the amount of space that the dialogue using dialect or accent takes up. Also its position in the story. Readers who don't like dialect/accent may not read a story in which it appears in the first paragraph, but--if they're really hooked on that story--may accept it later on. The dialect usages you show didn't bother me, particularly, but they did locate the story regionally and in time, for me. Other usages would locate it differently: "youse guys" for instance, or "fergeddaboutit."
A couple of things to consider: First, what are you using the dialect/accent to convey about the characters, setting, or type of story this is? Just trying to match the exact sound is rarely a good reason to use it, but in a story with characters of different social classes, education, or background, it might be useful in moderation. Then, how much of this effect do you need to convey to the reader that a character is from a given region or social class? Is this the best way to convey that information, or (given that some readers don't like a heavy use of dialect) can you combine a little of it with other approaches? Also, fashions change in literature. At one time, an attempt to render dialect accurately was hot stuff and writers were praised for it. Later, fashions changed and writing teachers encouraged little or no use of it, one of the reasons being the very race-related use of it, with African American speech rendered as barely understandable and illiterate.
You don't say which stage of the story you're in. If it helps you to use dialect/accent to focus on a character's individuality in first draft, then don't worry about its long-term effect. If you're now in a later draft, it may be time to consider exactly why you used it, what character points you wanted to bring out. Since you've expressed some doubts about the effect on readers of what you wrote, it seems it's niggling at you--which means you aren't entirely happy with it yet. Others' suggestions so far are good, but ultimately it's your story and you need to feel comfortable with it. Do you yourself like stories with dialect differences? You can look for stories that use dialect in a way that you like, and then analyze how much of it they use. You can start with Mark Twain and work forward in time, noting when better and lesser writers used it most (and least.) Does a character speak in full dialect every time, or--having given you a clue--does the writer slowly back out of that much density, leaving just a few individual speech habits actually on the page?