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  1. senkacekic
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    senkacekic New Member

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    Need some advice - language style for one of my characters...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by senkacekic, Mar 11, 2011.

    One of the stories I currently write (scifi background) has a strong focus on the relationship between two of the protagonists. They enter the story as kind of mortal enemies, trying to kill each other (an encounter that gets the whole story started in the first place), but then due to circumstances have to band together. They always end up fighting because they are simply too different from each other and don't understand the other's motives and feelings.

    Now, I always wonder what language style I should use for one of these two characters.
    The character is a woman, her life was quite hard and at the point where the story starts she's an infamous criminal. She does not have a family of her own nor does she have real friends, is not very educated (but normal or even a bit above average in case of IQ) and the milieu she's usually associated with is the worst one can imagine.
    She's very short tempered and violent and she constantly provokes everyone around her (especially her counterpart/rival character) and is quite open sexually. She loves making fun of other people, has more of a laid-back attitude and is quite lazy, sometimes kind of a sponger and I'd say quite selfish.
    I'd like to make her sound like someone who grew up on the streets (and she wants to sound cool/badass when she talks), but I'm not sure how to do that without making it sound like an accent that is reminiscent of a distinct place. As this is Science Fiction, she is not supposed to sound, like... from Boston or from London or something like that. There's no planet earth in this story. So I need to figure out a way to use colloquial speech and slang without making it sound like a distict dialect/accent. And of course it shouldn't get exaggerated to a point it's annoying to read her dialogues.
    This is quite important as the difference between both rivals also shows up in case of language - the counterpart is a politician who speaks in a very polite, formal and correct way.

    Can anyone provide some help? Maybe there's a movie or a book you could recommend? Or some words/phrases that you think might fit?
     
  2. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I think a good example you might be able to pull from is Orson Scott Card. In Bean's backstory (the shadow series, and specifically, Ender's Shadow), Card has to make a number of characters sound less than refined. Although he does use some regional dialect to accomplish this, he also coins a number of words and phrases as slang that he uses throughout his stories to paint someone as a bit rough around the edges.

    Another approach, since you're specifically trying to contrast her with someone who would speak in a more refined manner, is to pepper her speech with vulgarisms and more widespread slang. You don't necessarily need to pick slang from a specific regonizable region, but you could pull from one or two major dialects of English (Midwestern American English is often a good option, because it's viewed as more general and neutral than many other dialects).
     
  3. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    I have a character somewhat similar to the one you mentioned. Here's some of the methods I use to distinguish and characterize her. Maybe you can get some ideas of your own from her dialogue.

    She sometimes turn statements into questions ending with 'right?'

    --"I hate this place, right?" or "He had a thing for poetry, right?"

    She has a way of dropping the word 'you' and 'I' off of the front of sentences.

    --"Need to be careful there." or "Just felt like seeing what's up."

    She makes use of informal words.

    --"Gotta go. Don't screw up." or "I'm gonna get out of here."

    And most important, she's terse. If there's a way to say something with less words, she'll probably go with that instead.

    Other character: "I'm going to go to the post office. Do you want to come with me?"
    This character: "I'm heading out. You coming?"


    The best way to distinguish character speech is to write for them. Try this exercise. Write back and forth chatter between your two protagonists. No description, no action, nothing. Just their conversation. Go on for a few pages. As you write, if your characters are well developed, their speech will begin to become unique to them.

    The more time you spend with your characters, the easier it'll be to write for them. When I write, my characters speak for themselves. I just know what character A would say in situation B and how he would say it, because I know him. There's no wondering involved.
     
  4. AxleMAshcraft
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    AxleMAshcraft Member

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    Hmmm.
    I guess a lot of "tough kid" personality. "Shudup" "Shove it." "Piss off."
    Are you willing to add in cursing? It might work to badass up your character.
    If she grew up on the streets maybe under-her-breath mumbling about how "you would never get away with this where I came from." or "They would have kicked your ass." "You wouldn't have lasted a minute."
    Also being insanely rash, no inner filter. EX: Not MC- "You look nice in a dress." MC- "Shut the f*** up." EX: Not MC- "Would you stop it?!" MC- "Someone's PMSing." Just saying the things that are on everyone's mind but no one will say.
    What else...
    By "language style" and the fact that I don't really remember what you said in your original post:
    Gestures could help a lot in your case. Is she forced to wear nicer (<-thats not a word) clothes? Because tugging at them, awkwardly straightening them ect. could show the difference between what she is used to and this.
    Just ideas.
     
  5. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    Pay very close attention to how the politician speaks, maybe even purple it up slightly, but have the girl talk like she's from the internet.

    It might be difficult to find a message board that has the right level of incomprehensibility. Some boards dismiss arguments simply because one little grammar flaw proves that the poster is a mouth-breathing idiot.

    Do they still make reality shows with college-age people?

    Maybe you could type the girl as you normally would, and then re-write her dialogue after spending a few hours reading the worst fan-fiction that you can find.
     
  6. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another thing to play around with is pace. This can be a hard one, but in many slangs there this certain rhythm and pace to how they talk. Think of rappers when they just talking, or wheeabo girls (girls way into Japanese culture) talking in short intense burst of words in high pitched voices squeaking "Kawaii!".

    The benefit of using pacing and rhythms is that you don't have to come up with that much slang, and that you can have it show even when she talking a bit more formally.

    The downside is hard to tell you how to do it. One way to get it right is say the sentences aloud and seem that you can get the pace right, the other way around is that you pick some music style and try to borrow it pace.
     
  7. senkacekic
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    senkacekic New Member

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    Thanks for your help, everyone.

    I was kind of happy when I read Ions post, that's exactly what I'm trying to do, actually. She always uses very short sentences and tends to drop the pronouns. Very often the sentences end with "..., right?", "..., see?" or "..., huh?" or stuff like that. And there's also quite a lot of gotta, gonna, wanna etc. So I hope I'm on the right way.

    She didn't grow up on the streets, actually, as she didn't grow up at all. She's not really human, so she was never a child. But as she spent like 90% of her lifetime among those kind of people, I guess in case of language there won't be a difference between her and those who really grew up on the streets...
    I don't have problems in case of gestures and such things. Actually, she has quite many characteristics, expressions and stuff like that which emphasize her personality. It's just the language use I had to think about.

    And yes, I am absolutely willing to add in cursing. I mean, I want the dialogues to be realistic. Don't want my criminal to sound like she's from a disney cartoon -.-
    Do you think that could be a problem?
    For my politician (female also) I planned to never use curse words... she is too well-mannered for that. What would you think I should make her say instead of "real" cursing when she gets angry?

    @Smoke - So you mean kind of chatroom-like language?
     
  8. 42durham
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    42durham New Member

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    I more agree with Axle than Ion. Your character would be very self assured, and not put ",right?" at the end of what she says. That would make her seem timid, which she definitely is not.

    She also wouldn't talk much in the first place. She lets her actions, expresssions, and emotes do her talking for her. Which is in great contrast to the politician who talks too much, and most of the time the talk is meaningless. She would nod, grunt, sigh, glare, punch the wall, and when she spoke, it would be very short.

    But these 2 would make a great duo for accomplishing tasks. She would smash through the front gate of her enemies castle, where as the politician would use deception to enter the castle. So depending on the situation, they would be able to attack it which ever way is best, and sometimes both ways.

    Good luck!
     
  9. AxleMAshcraft
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    AxleMAshcraft Member

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    Another thing that might help:
    Maybe have her say some things in an almost sarcastic way (like the "see") as if EVERYONE else should know this too because to her its just common sense.
    I've never really been one to read scifi so sorry if I'm super off-base with my responses :)
    I'm super interesting though. This sounds like a pretty cool story.
    other character:
    What would you think I should make her say instead of "real" cursing when she gets angry?
    Maybe try to organize things; "Its not going according to plan." ect.
    Just changing from sophisticated long words to shorter choppier, though not considered "curse" words.
    "You know I hate it when you do this! How could you betray me like that? We had a plan! Why wouldn't you go by the plan? Can't you ever listen to me? Why don't you listen to me? Can't you trust anyone?"
    Does this help.
     

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