What Makes a Story – #4 – Speech

I’ve been utterly useless at posting recently (life has gotten in the way) but I’m determined to see these series of posts out. So this time I’ve been thinking a lot about speech and as a writer and reader poorly executed speech really grinds my gears.

So what is poorly executed speech? I think the best way to explain that it to look over some examples.

1) “I am coming” “I did not go to the park” “I will not succeed”

All of these examples lack contractions. If you’re writing a modern story, set in a modern time, use the contracted versions (i.e. shouldn’t, didn’t doesn’t) unless you’re emphasising a point. The simple reason it annoys me is because no one actually speaks like that and it always feels as though the writer has never tried reading their work out loud. Read your work out loud, it’s crucial for getting the feel right.

Of course if you’re using an antiquated setting then the full words are better. It’s all about context.

But, the more accurate you make your speech, the more accurately you construct your characters. And you know I think it’s all about the characters.

2) “Could you pass me that biscuit, please?” … “Sure, here you go.”…. “Thank you” …. “You’re welcome.”

I love manners, I think they’re really important in society but not so much in books. Speech sequences like this are waffle and some writers can make them go on for pages. If your characters are having a conversation, make sure they’re talking about something: a) important to the plot or b) amusing or interesting. Long manner sequences, and the like, do not fall into either category. Cut it out.

3) “Look at that star.” I said.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

“Isn’t it just?” I replied.

“I wish it was nearer.” he said.

“Me too. It looks so shiny.”  I said.

Please ignore the pointless subject matter of this quickly improvised speech (I know, I’ve just broken my own rule). The point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot of ‘saids’ going on. Getting the said balance right is a tough one. Sometimes, you have to sit back and let the form of your work do it’s job. If it’s clear there are two people having a conversation and their speech is on separate lines, you won’t have to put said all the time. Just chuck it in occasionally to make it extra clear.

I once read something that said ‘said’ is the only word you should use to describe speech, if you have to say ‘said haughtily’ or ‘nastily’ etc then the speech itself hasn’t done its job.

While I don’t fully agree with that, I do take the point that speech needs to be full of quality and not fluff or filler.

I’ve taken such a strong view on speech because I love speech-y novels, I’d take speech over description any day because it helps me visualise a scene better. And if the speech is naff and unrealistic, it spoils the book a little bit.

What about you? What are your pet peeves about speech in novels? Do you like books with a lot of speech in?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Top Ten Character-driven books

This week’s TTT is top ten character driven books and is, as always, hosted by the delightful The Broke and the Bookish.

I love Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m seriously struggling not to repeat myself. This is a really special one for me, because as anyone who reads my blog will know, I LOVE characters. I think they make or break a story.

So here I go:

1) GOT – I talk about this every bloody week so I don’t need to say anymore. Love you George. a-game-of-thrones-the-story-continues-the-complete-box-set-of-all-7-books

2) On Beauty – Zadie Smith. This is writing back to Howard’s End by Forster. You don’t need to read Howard’s End to enjoy it (in fact I would recommend never reading Howard’s End). Smith is a character master. They’re the most vibrant characters and she explores fantastic themes of race, academia, and of course, beauty.

3) Sherlock Holmes – A.C. Doyle. I think with any eponymous novel there is certain necessity that the work is character driven but I think we can all agree Holmes’s is very interesting. Watson too. Irene and Moriarty? In the original they’re not that fascinating. In fact, they’re barely in it.

4) One Day – David Nicholls. Again, I know, I talk about this every week. But it’s one of my faves and you can’t talk about characters without talking about Dexter and Emma, after all, it’s the story of their lives.

51pSErJc3oL5) The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruis Zafon. This story is all about the mystery of the characters, the plot moves slowly at time but the reveal is worth it.

6) World War Z – Max Brooks. There is no real plot to this book, no characters as such either. But I wanted to include it because the book consists of a series of interviews and they just feel so alive. Brooks really captured lots of different voices which I loved.

7) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I think Atticus Finch may be one of my favourite ever characters. Reading through a growing child’s eyes took some amazing talent on Lee’s behalf. It’s a wonderful story about people.

8) The Hours – Michael Cunningham. This is the story of three women, in three different times. Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It explores themes of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (except in a readable not modernist way). This is not a happy book but it is a very interesting one.

9) Where Rainbows End – Cecilia Ahern. I have a real soft spot for this book. Ignoring the logic issues of this book, it’s just lovely. CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndThe whole thing is written in letters, emails etc over the lives of two people who love each other but always seem to just miss each other. Heartbreaking. Lovely. Read it in a day.

10) The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric. I go on a lot about this one too … but it’s great. So many different voices tell the story. There’s the mad Minguillo, the madder nun, the lovely doctor, the battered heroine. Ah it’s amazing. Read it immediately.
What about you? What’s your TTT?