Monday, February 28, 2011

Writing Speech

Speech is in the news and resonating in all media this week as the movie "The King's Speech" was lauded at the Academy Awards. We've also been talking about speech here on the blog lately, and as we see from this particular movie, how important speech was to King George and how hard speech can be if you, or your character, has a problem with it.

The King's speech was awkward and humiliating due to his debilitating stutter and the story of his agonizing efforts to overcome the stutter and deliver clear and smooth public speeches was his great personal struggle. Building a character on paper through his or her speech, inner thoughts, physical description and actions is the struggle of the writer, and can be difficult, but the character's speech and thought process will determine his/her voice.

Recently Linda wrote here on the blog about creating the speech of her characters in her early 20th century novel and how she was striving for the reader to hear the authenticity of each character through their individual dialogue processes. A blogger commented to her about the dialect in the best selling novel, THE HELP, and how authentic and important to the life of the novel this dialect is.

I was fortunate several weeks ago to meet Kathryn Stockett, author of THE HELP, and hear her give a presentation of the novel, its roots and her writing process. The dialect that the help in the book used was apt and true since she listened to her inner ear and her deep memories of childhood when her family in Mississippi employed a maid named Demetrie, whom she loved.

She said that she wrote the dialect mostly as she remembered it phonetically. She told a humorous story that an editor in New York put the novel through a process where all the language was dictionary language and it came back all homogenized and no dialect was left! Of course there would not be a best selling and true novel with authentic voice without the dialect.

So, I am now still working on an authentic voice and the perfect pitch speech for my current PB heroine, the egret from the Everglades. What speech are you crafting now and what are some of the obstacles?


  1. Interesting post! In my current WIP my main MC is a male and I'm finding it challenging to keep it fresh and real and well, male since...I'm. not. male. I've had to stop myself at times, really think and listen to how a teenager would say certain things. Luckily I can eavesdrop on my 15 year old and his friends to catch their banter...but shhh!! Don't tell him!

  2. Very interesting post. I am not writing anything new right now but I'm in the middle of major brainstorming. So this is really good to think about.

  3. Writing natural dialogue is hard, hard, hard. I once had an editor call some of my fiction "fresh and engaging," but she called my dialogue "wooden." And she was right!

    Making every character sound different is a tall order. Adding dialect to the mix makes it even harder. I admire those who can do this successfully.

  4. An authentic teen voice is crucial to the success of any YA novel. I eavesdrop on kids whenever I can. But now I have a terrible problem. My younger son just got his driver's license. I'm out of the chauffeuring/listening pool!

  5. I used to eavesdrop too. Now, my son is old enough that I flat out ask him, "Would a 16-year old say this?"

    He's generally helpful and since he's not home I can't see him blush when I ask.

  6. Robin - How lucky you are to have a live labratory of teen speak dialogue right at home.

    Christina - As soon as you decide on a character in your brainstorming you will start to hear his/her voice.

    Gale - Yes - making each character sound different is the trick - and difficult!

    Judy - Maybe you can still catch some fragments of tel conversations -one side anyway.

    Meg - good approach!