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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Giving Good Tongue

Multitasking is not for everyone and certainly not for every writer. I do not recommend it for the novice because besides the time-consuming aspect, it can be an insane roller coaster of emotions and mixed metaphors (literally).

By intervals, I am finishing a contemporary ghost story, a thriller, and a steampunk fantasy. Plus, I started to outline the NaNoWriMo novel.

Sometimes it feels like there’s an editorial director/ringmaster saying, “Immaletyoufinishbut…”

The next challenge I am immersing myself in is dialect. Dialogue needs to ring to true and that means that characters must use the exactly right words. You wouldn’t have a hippie character in a 1972 story say, “Dude, WTF?” simply because that phrase didn’t exist colloquially yet. If a contemporary character found herself in the middle of 1972, she might think exactly these words to herself – that would make the dialogue (internal in this case) perfectly reasonable.

The steampunk series includes a contemporary character transplanted to a world that includes a class system that very much resembles Victorian England. I’ve determined that the “upper class” will have a Regency feel to it – because they’d be the established “old money” types in the story. And this rule makes me happy.

I could go a little grittier Dickensian for other characters, and develop a colonial dialect for yet another set of characters. Once this is established though, it is important to stick to it for consistency and to lend credence to that particular aspect of realism within the story.

Of course, I love research (because I’m a dork). To prepare for this I’ve engaged in several different activities. The authenticity of individual moments -- scenes, images, and bits of dialogue -- is what attracts me to the process in the steampunk series.

The Internet offers a fantastic resource at Joanna Waugh’s blog (including a book of names, panoramic images and maps, a dictionary of the vulgar tongue, fashion, food, climate, and traveling facts).

Netflix gives me such gems as Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, and a host of beautiful period dramas for my inner girlie need for drag. My own collection of dramas gives me access to the full Merchant-Ivory collection.

The Kindle Store and the Guttenberg Project bestow the words of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Oscar Wilde.

From Audible I feast on the auditory joys of listening to Richard Armitage read two of Georgette Heyer’s novels – and believe me I have listened to them to death! Shut up, it’s for research. Yes, yes, I love the sound of his velvety voice* and melt just thinking of it, but I keep listening because when I start writing and fleshing out some of the scenes necessary to finish volume 1 in The Chronicles of Ash, I need to have the right words, slang and cadence already in my head.

The work is not a romance, I'll never master that; but the romances do several things: they establish a very specific time frame, they combine peerage and rank, they move comfortably between city and country, they quickly paint the political picture of the moment. More importantly, the romance lives and dies by dialogue because unless the story specifically covers the underbelly of polite society with all its twisted perversions, the period folks (at least on paper) gave good tongue.

Right now, I’m all about giving good tongue. It’s all about the words: the right words. Therefore, I curtsy to the music of the spoken word in order to write it better.

(I may also walk around the house with a period head piece, but you need not incorporate cosplay into your research. Still, I hear that if you wear the right costume, the part plays itself...)

* I have Sylvester, aka The Wicked Uncle and The Convenient Marriage. Eventually I'll add Venetia to my collection. I'd kill for Bernard Cornwell's The Lords of the North, but the prices for it are freaking insane. 

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