By Brenda Clough
Every now and then I write a story about a mythical figure set in his own time. I wrote about the death of Odysseus in “Home is the Sailor”, and about Gilgamesh in “Below, Between, Above,” which recently was published in the anthology How Beer Saved the World. I notice that when I’m wandering in Mary Renault territory, I try to write like her. Nouns get selected from the Anglo Saxon menu rather than the Latinate side; sentences become simpler in structure. We get very Attic. (If you go to the Amazon page and hit the “Look Inside” link you can read the story in its entirety to see what I mean.)
And then there is the Victorian clergyman turned action adventure hero who is the protagonist of my current Work In Progress. This book has forced my inner Dickens and Trollope to the fore. Subordinate clauses bloom like dandelions in May, the semicolons spread like bindweed, and sentence structure gets wild and hairy, especially when I’m writing from his point of view. Does he ever think a plain thought? No. And did you know that English is slowly evolving? Word choice and sentence structure are gradually shifting over time. This means that selecting “ought” rather than “should” subtly flavors the prose.For contrast, and to keep my hand in, my hero has a co-star, an Army officer for whom I can simply steal my son the USAR 1LT’s voice. Profanity of the simplest and most vehement sort is the salient feature here. Everything gets short, snappy, and powerful. Subject-verb-object becomes the sentence structure of choice. This is the voice for juddering automatic weaponry and the explosion of stun grenades before they kick in the door. To have an in-house consultant for profanity, milspeak, and combat tactics is an opportunity not to be missed, and the novel has tanks, street-fighting and far more action-movie stuff than I usually resort to. (Like Zonker Harris, my son is fed, not paid, for his consultant services, but I bake a mean pie and there have been no complaints.)
None of this is particularly intentional on my part. I did not sit down and scroll through a menu of voices, trying them on. The characters have their own voices and dragged the prose along behind them. My role is to write it all down and add punctuation. In fact, it is when I can’t hear the characters speak that there is trouble. If they are alive, they talk!
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Café.