1. Jaiyke
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    Jaiyke New Member

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    Young, modern characters speaking in an old-fashioned way?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Jaiyke, Jun 3, 2016.

    I've tried writing a few versions of the same scene for the story I'm currently writing, but I've always ended up feeling dissatisfied with the end result. I always come to the conclusion that it's the dialogue that I don't like. It feels too... boring. Too average and unexciting and boring. There's no energy or creativity or liveliness to it. It just... is. Even if some of the characters are saying interesting things, the way they say it is still boring and unremarkable. I've come to the conclusion that the reason is that the way modern people (aka all of us) speak is just so plain and dull. Everything is to-the-point and basic, with no dramatic or poetic flare to the sentences. I suppose this makes it "realistic", but realism is mostly boring and should not be all a story has going for it. I want my dialogue to spring off the page and be memorable and lyrical and creative, but the only way to achieve that is to write it in such a way that it seems completely unnatural and out-of-place for early-twenty-somethings in 2016 to be speaking (and I know how they speak since I'm 19).

    My story is a satirical look at the pseudo-intellectualism of the youth that attend universities, a topic I have much inside knowledge of (since I basically witness it and participate in it daily at my own university). I suppose that by using lyrical, out-of-place language in the dialogue it could fit with the theme of mocking the types that use it, but I also want the main character and other non-pseudo-intellectuals to use it, to keep a consistent style. One of my major influences for the story is Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, my all-time favourite novel, and the dialogue in that book is just... perfect. Every line is so well thought-out and lyrical and flows so well, but that was typical of all the great 19th century novels, and sadly that style really doesn't fit in well with a story taking place in 2016.

    What are your thoughts on this dilemma? Should I just go ahead and write it how I want, regardless of how strange and out-of-place it would look, or should I think of some other way to write good dialogue?
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've just read about a production of HMS Pinafore that appears to be set in the modern-day navy.

    One of my favourite productions of MacBeth was set in modern-day gangland in Glasgow.

    West Side Story
    is Romeo and Juliet.

    And Cruel Intentions is Les liaisons dangereuses set in modern-day New York, rather than 18th century France.

    So, why don't you reverse this trend and set your tale at a period when the language you want to use wouldn't have seemed out of place?

    Samuel Butler satirized the trends he deplored by setting them upon a mythical island called Erewhon.
     
  3. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes.

    And just so this isn't the shortest bit of advice ever given on this forum, I'll say it again: yes.

    Let go of your fear and just write it. If it helps, pretend (or even intend) that no one will ever see it. No one can ever call you to task over something they've never read.

    And if it turns out great, you can decide from there what to do with it. But don't think about that now. That's what's holding you back. Forget the audience/reader and just write.
     
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  4. Jaiyke
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    Jaiyke New Member

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    I suppose this is a good alternative, although it would require my doing quite a bit of research into the period and setting so my writing comes across as authentic, and research has never really been my strong suit. Still, placing the story I want to write in 19th century London for example might be very interesting and fun.
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do as much research as you want...unless you're trying to draw a parallel between what's happening now and what happened then (e.g. The Crucible, paralleling the Salem witch trials of 1692-93 with the McCarthy era communist witch-hunt) it doesn't matter...and even then, don't sweat the minutiae of the history.
     
  6. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    As I read this I cannot help but to smile, because it reminds me of myself in some ways. I am a Texan and as that is, I get teased about my word choices, inflections, and pronunciations. The more uncomfortable/nervous I get the more formal my language becomes and my pronunciation gets increasingly crisp as I speak. It throws strangers off quite a bit at first, while my friends understand that I am just uncomfortable/nervous in that situation. For me, this is a choice I have made over the years and I love my oddness.

    So as to your question, the biggest point to made, at least for me, is is that your character's natural way of speaking. Did they encourage themselves to speak that way? Strange and different equates itself to unique and something that stays in the memory. As authors we would go nowhere if we only limited ourselves to what 'others' think is normal and everyday. I love the idea your proposing!
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2016
  7. JoetheLion
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    JoetheLion Member

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    You've chosen to write a satire on a topic that's rich with possibilities. It gives you a lot of license to exaggerate into characature, and I'd run with that as far as I could. To hell with the realism of the dialogue, it doesn't matter. :)
     
  8. agasfer
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    agasfer Member

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    Although the temptation is to just write all dialogue in the same voice (usually the author's), the better authors vary the speech mannerisms from character to character, although this takes a bit more work. I do not know whether you read Crime and Punishment in a translation or in the original Russian, but in Russian the differences from one character to another are striking. For example, are your characters from the cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, etc.) or from the towns? If your setting is a university, the students will be coming from all over Oz, with a few from abroad. Although the bush is rapidly joining the cities in abandoning Aussie slang, it hasn't died out altogether, so you can insert it into some of your characters. Foreigners will speak differently. Science and mathematics inclined will have a slightly different way of speaking than others, especially the "geeks". And so forth. Not everyone at the university speaks like a Twitter message.
     
  9. Jaiyke
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    Jaiyke New Member

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    I unfortunately don't read or speak Russian (it seems like a wonderful language so I wish I did), so I read an English translation of it. I do wish I was able to fully appreciate the wonderful subtleties that Dostoyevsky was so famous for, though.

    The fictionalized university in my story is heavily based off my own university, which is a five minute train ride away from the city of Melbourne. It's in a very affluent and upper-class suburb.

    I know, but the point of my story was to not be realistic but to paint a satirical picture that is exaggerated for the sake of the humour. If I truly wanted to make a realistic and balanced depiction of the students at the university, it would be the most horrifically dull book ever written.
     
  10. agasfer
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    agasfer Member

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    Then I should take a better example, since the English translations tend to smooth things out. In the English language, try looking at Dickens. Extreme cases are the beginnings of Tom Sawyer and Pygmalion, but in both cases the author tells the reader that this would be impossible to continue in that way, and abandons the practice. So the idea there is: yes, make your characters speak differently, but don't make it extreme.
    A more contemporary example is "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion. The main character is an intellectual but not a geek; rather, he has a variation on Asperger's. But the way he speaks could be a good example as to how to make a geek speak in a comical way without making it impossible to read.
    Then you could indeed take immigrants and exaggerate their speech, but not too much, first to avoid appearing racist, and second since Melbourne doesn't get as many foreign students as Sydney. Rather, you will have to make sure that some of your characters avoid even the most common expressions in Strine -- which you can underline by having some more earthy characters among the students, some "true blue Aussies", who express their lack of understanding. Look up little-used synonyms of words, and have your targeted characters use them. (Don't make everyone speak like that; then the novel would just appear stilted. Besides, emphasis comes from contrast.) Have students interject expressions from their specialty. (You can ask specialists for some suggestions. I know that, in my field of mathematics, it would be easy to substitute such words and manner of speaking. In fact, I do that sometimes on purpose for comical effect.)
     

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