Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who's Talking Now?

I recently saw the remake of "True Grit." It's a stunning movie, (if you can ignore the gore and rattlers.) The Cohen Brothers have outdone themselves with costumes, scenery and cinematography. They could well win some Oscars but for one thing, I think. The antiquated speech was often difficult to understand.

I haven't read the book or seen the original film, and I intend to do both. Then I'll know whether the speech "impediment" was due to poor direction or poor enunciation.

The human ear adjusts easily to the spoken word, even if the language is archaic. It takes only minutes into a Shakespeare play to catch the rhythm and puzzle out the metaphors.

Which leads me to the speech of my characters. In my present manuscript, I don't "hear" my characters the way I want to. I want to hear the Virginian drawl without using ellipses. I want my reader to be able to distinguish the characters speaking without slogging through tag lines, at least, a lot of them. It is through their speech patterns that characters become three-dimensional and lock themselves in the reader's mind.

Today's writer has fewer tools available. Backstory has been declared burdensome and description a drag on the pacing. Narration is a "no no." That leaves dialogue and swift action to push the plot along.

Who's talking now? The reader wants to know...without trying (or ellipses.)


  1. Right now, I'm busy admiring the dialogue of Winnie-the-Pooh (and Piglet and Christopher Robin). Each character sounds so completely like himself. (Last night, I read "Pooh Goes Visiting Pooh and Pooh and Piglet Nearly Catch a Woozle" to my son and I keep re-reading favorite lines to myself. :o) )

  2. Linda,
    I agree about the irritation of straining to catch dialogue in a movie. I had the same problem with parts of The Fighter. My hearing is fine, but some of the asides were not articulated very well. I know there were Massachusetts accents, but I grew up with those - shouldn't have been a problem. :)

  3. Writing dialect is really hard. Look for books that do it well. Really study it and see just how much is added. I thought the dialect in the Help was really well done. And it was pretty heavy.