I had the most delightful few hours at a critique group meeting last week. Oh, how I have missed going to them regularly! At the beginning of my writing career, I joined 2 different groups and rarely missed a meeting for about a year. Then my girls joined volleyball and my schedule tightened. Some outstanding online critters have provided huge blessings since then, but there is something about sitting and discussing pages with other writers. I learn so much!
And last week was no exception.
When I’m composing, I often find myself getting deep into a story—putting on the character’s skin, as it were—but writing too much as myself. Such was the case with the third book of my Grime Fighter series. I have Dani and her roommate discussing a coming date with the hero. Even at twenty-eight, I figured girls would be a bit giddy when talking about romance.
I sure was! Still am, when it comes to giggling with my daughters.
Yet a thirty-year-old in our group didn’t like particularly wording. Some of the semantics sounded overly juvenile. I thought I’d used an old-lady word or two, but no. It was too young. (Had to laugh at that!)
Her comments caused me to stop and analyze the conversation, I realized that many of my words were inappropriate for my characters. One of the gals is in a serious, life-threatening situation, though still a bit twitterpated. (Do folks still use that word?) The other is younger, mid-twenties, but studying to be an attorney. She’d not realistically use teenage lingo, so words like nuts, bonkers, or crazy needed to be exchanged with other, more likely vocabulary.
Intentional writing matches the perfect wording for the person conversing. (Tweet This!) For a writer, this takes line-for-line revision. I even read my dialogue aloud, since I independently publish. For readers, on the other hand, as with most writing techniques, this should be invisible. In fact, a reader shouldn’t notice the hand-picked verbiage at all. So intentional writing will only show up in a book when it’s been done poorly.
I’ve have seen problems with this in other books. A naval officer in one novel used the word “boss.” It struck me as odd for him. I’d expect commander, superior, or the exact position, but “boss” seems more apt to come from a much younger, more laid-back guy.
I also remember a story where an ambitious woman seeking a new job spoke to her interviewer with trendy, urbanized lingo. I was halted in my reading. Several other characters had come into the office, spoken a moment, and then left. I thought I’d gotten one of them confused with the main character. But no, this ultra-sleek, all-business lady started speaking like a computer nerd. And no, that wasn’t the job she was seeking.
I know all of this goes to staying in character, and I’m a real stickler for that when I’m reading. All the more reason why it smarted when I got caught making the same mistakes in my writing! But don’t worry. Dani and Tasha will get themselves together!
Your Turn: Have you ever noticed a character (movie or novel) who has a dialogue that’s out of character?