Write Hacks 7: Train the Ear

by Brenda W. Clough

croppedQuillIdeally, every character has a voice — they sound like themselves. More importantly, they sound like creatures of their space and time and class and era. Lydia Bennett is not going to sound like Podkayne of Mars. If you write it right, the reader will not need a tag, the addition of a crutch like, “..said Miss Bennett, flirtatiously.” The voice, the words she speaks and the way she says it, will tell the reader everything she needs to know. And voice changes faster than you know. Only our modern recording technology allows us to display the evolution easily; move back far enough and it’s all speculation.

So: where to go and mine voice of the right period, in quantity? Ah, the wonders of our modern age. There are projects solely devoted to recording oral reminiscence. If you listen to public radio, you know about StoryCorps. Go to their archive and fall in: not only the history the speaker is telling you, but how he says it, the words and the cadence and the voice. You are not writing about Americans, you say? Here is the UK equivalent, run by BBC Radio 4. Pick your recordings with care, and soak yourself in it. Your characters can sound like they were born in Cheshire, or Leeds, or Norfolk, and you never need leave Minneapolis.

The eHow Like a God, by Brenda W. Cloughbook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe. And it is available now in an audio book edition which is read by Bronson Pinchot!

My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires.
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5 Responses to Write Hacks 7: Train the Ear

  1. When I was still teaching, one exercise I’d assign–and often have to let students take 2-3 weeks to complete–was write a confrontation with dialog only. Allowed 1 he said and 1 she said at the beginning.

    Then they had to turn the same scene around and portray the same confrontation with no dialog at all.

    Interesting and often hilarious results. The best one was about replacing the toilet paper roll.

  2. Mary says:

    Well, most of the time, you don’t need the tag. Sometimes. . .

    “Oh, wouldn’t I just love to kill you,” said Miss Bennett, flirtatiously.

    (In the right context. If they are flirting along, it wouldn’t be needed. But if Miss Wilcox just walked in on Miss Bennett’s conversation with Mr. Smith, you might.)

  3. I have suggested that instead of using tags “said Jim” you use action instead. Thus:

    He cocked the gun. “You dirty son of a swine.”

  4. damigiana says:

    I don’t want to sound like a STEM graduate, but if you click on the tag “Write Hacks” you get hacks 1, 1.1, 2 and 7. Maybe someone can get around to fixing this? Thanks anyway for the great suggestions!

  5. No, I think we are OK. #6 was by Sherwood Smith and came out on 8/21. (The wonders of the search function!)