In my last blog to you, I spoke of listening and how to listen, to make an effort to listen to others. How did you do? Have you already forgotten? Sometimes, I have to admit I do interrupt, but it is a work in progress. But how can I incorporate what I learned about listening into my writing?
Have you ever seen the quote, “What you say may end up in my next book.” It is everywhere. On mugs, on totes, everywhere, and for the life of me, I can’t remember the exact words. But you know what I mean. It means I listen (and steal). People are fascinating. They have things to say, stories of their own to tell. As a published author, have you ever met someone who had a story to tell, but wanted you to write it for them? Me, too.
Have you ever listened to strangers talking on the bus, or at the table next to you, whispering during a movie? This is a great place to get ideas on the rhythm of dialogue. Just don’t look at the people speaking. It might get creepy if you do.
So how else does listening help you write?
My second novel takes places in New Orleans, where I lived for many years. I know the city and its people. They do not speak like Southerners. In fact, many sound like they are from Jersey. So a native from New Orleans wouldn’t say coughin’. It would probably sound more like coffin.
When you live in a city or town, they have their own reference points. In New Orleans, they don’t say south or north in giving directions. They say go towards the river or the lake. Someone from New Orleans will tell you to go to the river side of St. Charles or to walk toward the lake, never will you hear go east pass St. Charles. (Is it really east?) Adding dialog like the above add to the atmosphere of the book, makes people believe you know that area. But sometimes it can be way too much.
For instance, I once read a self-published book for a friend (before self-publishing became popular). It was set in Scotland, a place I dearly love, but every word of the book was written using the sounds of the Scottish dialect, not just the occasional “ye” but every word, even the narrative. It was so difficult to read, I never got a good grasp of the story. You want to make your novel true to the country or city setting, but not so much that you lose the reader. If a reader has to stop to interpret something, that reader may not start again.
And there are other ways to listen. Do you play music when you write? I do. For some reason and I don’t know why, but I love to hear “Phantom of the Opera” in the background. I also use the soundtrack to “Braveheart” when I’m writing historicals.
But there are still more ways to listen. Listen to the outside. Listen to the inside. Listen to your heart beat. The sound of a train, of a bird, the wind blowing (or howling), the click of a keyboard (slow, fast, aggressive, angry), someone breathing (someone you love, someone who scares you, someone chasing you). Listen, then have your character listen too. It’s one of the five senses.
Critiques: I hope to cover this more in my next blog, but for now remember to breathe and listen. Don’t argue. Don’t explain. You won’t be able to do either of those to your audience. And never, ever throw a book at your critique partner. Throwing up isn’t good either.
Lastly, listen to your novel. So many people say to do that, but when it’s a 400-page tome, it’s difficult. Still take the book by the horn and read it. Listen to it closely. You can hear what your readers will. You have one chance to have them listen to your story. Make it as perfect as you can.
Are you listening, world? My name is Patricia Charles and I love to write romance.