Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk and Write it Right
I practice dialoguing in my head. Yes, I’m one of those who talks to herself, and answers. But the uniqueness of the voices in my head, are what I must capture on the page. I find it helps to be a good listener. I not only listen to what folks say, but the way they say it, their inflexions, dialects, accents, colloquialisms and metaphors. If it was captivating to me, I replay it for hours in my head, hearing it over and over. I imagine some writers who enjoy TV would do the same after a TV show. I find listening to local favorites like Garrison Keeler, to get that Minnesoooota just right, or Peter Falk and others that have distinct speech patterns, help me to not just write the dialogue, but it also helps to develop the character. I’m not writing a movie, so catching my audience’s eye isn’t going to happen. I have to capture their imagination with a character and their speech. They have to hear the voice of the story or they won’t turn the page.
When I was presenting at the History Museum in Helena, MT, one of the exhibits was books by Stan Lynde. I understood he was a local author and cartoonist, a favorite Montana son. They were giving away (FREE) his novel called Saving Miss Julie. It’s a cowboy book! And I thoroughly enjoyed it for its light-heartedness and old fashioned plot. But most of all, I enjoyed the dialogue and the first-person narration. I will use this book for reference if I ever need a cowboy character.
There are “things” in the book that have actual names I’ve never heard of like a hackamore or soogans. His metaphors are things only cowboys would think of, like, Sadness fell upon me like a cold, soggy blanket; or The roundup went off slicker than calf slobbers. And how’s this for painting a landscape, cowboy style? West of Dry Creek the land rolls away toward the mountains in one long stretch of weathered coulees and sun-scorched draws. Bunch grass clings to the bottoms and waits for rains that seldom come. Greasewood and sagebrush, twisted by the wind, offer scant shade for lizard and snake, and bare patches of red dirt shimmer in the heat waves. I don’t know about you, but this cowboy’s language makes me thirsty. (And I know what coulees and draws are even though they are both new words to me, from how it “looks” in the author’s picture.)
When characters speak, whether dialoguing or narrating, their language must fit, like an unapologetic outer layer of skin. Stan Lynde’s character wouldn’t talk like this if he were a city cop. He wouldn’t talk like this if he was an 18th century pioneer. But he’s a Montana deputy sheriff, circa 2004. His characters walk the walk, talk the talk, and he writes it right. It’s not easy to get this right. Like roping a 1200 pound gelding harboring murder in his heart, it takes lots and lots of practice