Thursday, October 27, 2011
When I get an idea for a novel, I break out a fresh spiral notebook (as you now know from one of my first posts on this blog). I jot down thoughts about titles, character names, and the descriptions of those who will populate my book. I record ideas about the season in which the story will take place, the weather, and "visuals," such as being able to see someone's breath in the cold, crisp air, or the smothering feel of heat and humidity just before the relief of a summer thunderstorm. For me, this process of examining and recording random thoughts can go on for weeks, maybe months, until I begin hearing voices. (I'm fortunate not to have lived in the time of Joan of Arc!) The voices I hear are those of the characters who are "composting" or coming to life in my brain. I already have their approximate ages and personalities in my head, but when I "hear" their voices -- the tones they use and the unique language they favor -- that's when I sit down and begin the first draft of the book. In Good Fridays, Emily, in her eighties, uses easy, conversational phrases such as "we lived right smack dab in the middle of the block." Thirty-year-old Sara chooses gentle, non-confrontational words during the road trip with her manipulative and emotional mother, Vicki, who is sixty-four. For decades, Sara has realized she must avoid doing or saying anything that will upset her mother. Vicki, quick to judge and quick to blame, uses short, direct commands to maintain control of conversations with her daughter or anyone else in her path. The reason why dialogue needs to be unique to each character in a book is so readers can tell who is speaking in the book. If a writer has done a good job assigning the proper dialogue and tones to his or her characters, the conversations can flow freely, and not be hindered by the reader having to trip over "Vicki said" and "Sara replied" over and over, line after line on the pages. Those are speed bumps for readers. What a writer needs to do is keep the pace moving forward, and not interfere with the suspense and action that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages.