Blogs by Flo Fitzpatrick
Dialogue Tips for Writers
2/23/2011 8:51:19 AM
Disclaimer - My background is in Theatre. I really DID take Acting 101 (and 202 and 303 etc.etc.etc.) And made the discovery that a lot of good stuff I can use for writing came out of those classes.
From the Outside In: Actors generally do a great deal of research on their characters. If a back-story isn’t laid out within a play, actors make up one. They spend a lot of time angsting about motivation and the emotional make-up of the person they're portraying . All this is considered 'working from the inside out'to develop a character.
What does this have to do with dialogue? Let me ‘splain. An opposite way of creating a character is called 'working from the outside in.' (well, duh - that makes sense, doesn't it!)
Deciding how a character stands or walks or - talks. Perhaps because I’m also a dancer, I tend to use the “outside in” technique. The best use of this (for me) was creating the character of “Cherie” in Bus Stop (yeah, the role Marilyn Monroe played.)
Cherie is tricky because she’s naive, yet sexy, vulnerable and sensitive yet inwardly pretty tough. She’s not dumb but she appears to be. And - Holy Razorbacks - she’s also from Arkansas - a state that has a Southern accent unlike any other. (Breakfast, for example, somehow ends up with an ‘l’ so it sounds like “Brelkfust”)
I first took the physical approach to creating her character by making her stand slightly pigeoned-toed which made her a bit awkward. Vocally I wanted her breathy and slightly higher-pitched than my normal voice.
And finally, I had to work on her dialect. The dialogue was a given since I wasn’t going to change William Inge’s script. But I added a few Arkansas touches that I hoped would give some clues to the audience as to where this girl came from - which then helped let them know why she was who she was.
Habitual phrases work for helping create a character. My grandmother never said, “you know” or “Um”. Instead, her conversation was littered with “Happen to have.” She grew up in Central Texas and I lived in the area off and on for years myself, but Grandma was the only one I ever heard use that phrase. So it worked for HER character.
One of the other tricks from Theatre Voice classes was to take THREE dialect indicators and make sure those worked. Which is a great help in writing dialogue for ‘foreign’ characters, characters from parts of America where dialect is less than ‘generic’ (Deep South, Texas, Brooklyn, Jersey, Western Pennsylvania for ex.)
Let me give you a for instance: "You all." In Jersey it's "youse." In Johnstown,PA it's "you-uns." In Brooklyn it's "Yo!"
So, You’ve got a character from Texas. Three things will show your reader that Jimmy Joe Bob Smith comes from Ft. Worth.
Grab that ever-popular “y’all.” This comes with a bonus - in Texas 'y’all' is not only used to address folks - as in, “Y’all get in here now.” Y’all is used as a possessive pronoun. “Y’all’s car is fixin’ to crash.”
That last sentence is a Texas two for one. “Fixin’ ta.”
I’m going to cheat a bit for the third Texasism because it’s a way to continue letting the reader know a character is from Texas (but also much of the South) and that’s the apostrophe after an ‘ing’ word - including "fixing to.
“Darlin’, I keep tryin’ to explain about the car crashin’ but y’all look like you’re fixin’ to run out on me anyway.”
A short story: I first lived in Manhattan after college and did the dancer/theatre thing - I took classes and I auditioned and I performed Way the Heck Off Broadway!
One day, after a jazz dance class, I was invited by a couple of friends of a friend to go out to dinner. About five of us went tromping through the streets of New York headed to some cheap diner. We were crossing W.53rd when a car came barreling out from a parking spot, headed right toward our group. I yelled, "Watch out, y'all! We're fixin' to get hit!"
We made it to safety. The four girls I hadn't known until that afternoon stared at me. Two of them simultaneously stated, "Texas!"
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More Blogs by Flo Fitzpatrick
Writers Who Care - Tuesday, December 20, 2011
A WRiters Work - Monday, December 05, 2011
Tell Me a Story! - Tuesday, October 25, 2011
A Gentle Ghost Story - Sunday, October 09, 2011
I Got a Name - Part Two - Saturday, April 16, 2011
Self- E and POD versus Trad - Wednesday, March 23, 2011
More Dialogue Tips for Writers - Friday, March 18, 2011
How I Spent Spring Break (A Cautionary Tale) - Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I got a Name - Friday, March 11, 2011
Want to help name a book? - Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Spring Break - Break! - Saturday, March 05, 2011
Dialogue Tips for Writers - Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Writing Tip - Singing -Keep it OFF the Page - Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Respect - A Writing Nudge - Friday, February 11, 2011
To Stupid to Live? Ouch - Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Writer's Tip - Know Thyself - Tuesday, February 08, 2011
"Risky" Business - Sunday, February 06, 2011