Beyond the Portraits: Part 2

Hello, again! I’m still on hiatus with my wonderful friend Ashley at the reigns, but the show much go on, so let’s take another look at what’s beyond the faerie queen’s portraits before the book comes out July 10th.

This one is a little more cut and dry, focusing on a more technical, yet still enjoyable  part of writing fiction: writing dialogue.


Image from viennateng.com

I don’t remember a single day of my life that wasn’t surrounded by human speech. If I wasn’t talking to family, I was talking to friends. If I wasn’t talking to friends, I was listening to teachers. If I wasn’t listening to teachers, I was listening to music or near-by chatter. If I wasn’t listening to music or chatter, well, you get the idea.

It’s like that for most people and yet, for some reason, writing dialogue as unique and natural as real speech is one of the hardest parts of writing fiction. It is for me, anyway, even if it is my favorite part of writing. It’s something I’ve admired about lyricists for years. While lyrics usually mimic real speech less than dialogue due to the nature of poetry, they often capture personality, tone, emotion, and common speech in a way that written dialogue can sometimes struggle with. What’s even more baffling is that some lyricists can give voice to a multitude of people.

Like the ever phenomenal Vienna Teng.

I’m going to do my best to keep my gushing to a minimum, but no promises. I’ve fawned over this woman and her work ever since I saw her preform at my college six years ago and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. If I’m not admiring her incredible piano work, it’s her brilliant use of modern musical styles or, as it relates to this article, her lyrics.

Her two most recent albums, Inland Territory and Aims, show off her talent the strongest. One’s a somewhat traditional singer-song writer collection while the other is more experimental, but they both tell diverse, vivid stories, sometimes side by side.

For example, “In Another Life” tells the story of two souls’ journey through multiple life times. The narrative voice has relatively little personality, which works very well considering how diverse the souls’ lives have been. It makes more sense to have the voices be blank slates than emulating any one culture or time. The next track, “Grandmother Song”, does a complete one-eighty. It’s told from Vienna’s grandmother’s point of view in a soulful, southern twang full of colloquialisms and patterns similar to African-American English. Vienna pulls it off so well that my Dad, who is black, was genuinely surprised when he realized she wasn’t as well.

In the 99,” sounds completely different from either song. While it’s impersonal like “In Another Life,” it’s choppy, urgent and swift as it takes quick snapshots of 21st century America and full of hypothetical questions that no one seems able to answer, either in the song or in real life. “Hymn of Acxiom” takes the strangest turn yet. It’s full of double-speak and false promises as social media is personified and lulls its users into a false sense of security and satisfaction. And those are only four songs from Vienna Teng’s repertoire.

Obviously I’m not going to go about writing dialogue the same way Vienna writes lyrics. In a way, I have it easier since the voices belong to individual characters rather than a multitude or concepts, but capturing individual identities with spoken words was still important to me in the writing process.

Jocelyn is white and was born and raised in Michigan, so her speaking style is very mid-western. Dominic is a faerie knight and, since the court exists outside of the regular flow of time, his speech is more “proper” and antiquated. Rina is black and attending a prestigious school, resulting in her being self-conscious of her speech and choosing her words carefully.

Every character has a story behind why they speak the way they do, creating a harmony of voices that play off each other, tell jokes and, most importantly, tell a story. Hopefully, it will be a story people will love and remember.

 

What about you? What influences how you write dialogue?

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