Whisper, Don't Shout

This post by Jill J. Marsh originally appeared on her site on 8/25/14.

How to get sound onto paper.

An issue I’ve wrestled with for some time, especially when it comes to characters’ voices.

Several recent books irritated me enormously with an excess of signposts as to speech style. Every utterance written semi-phonetically was boring and hard work. An excess of ‘local colour’ turned character into caricature before the story even began. Every single person in a broad cast using the same vocabulary but with different adverbs equalled monotony.

The reason the books above failed is for exactly the same reason writers should show, not tell.

Leave space for the reader’s imagination. Inference is a powerful and natural phenomenon.

Do not tell. Do not shout. Whisper and let us follow the clues. We may end up in different places. That is our prerogative.

The complexity of rendering voices, accents, speech impediments or verbal tics on paper while not getting on the reader’s wick is both tricky and simple. I often write characters who speak other languages than English. How close to native speaker should they sound? Would adding mistakes in English add authenticity or distract? A key character has a peculiarity of expression – should I explain or risk incomprehension?


Click here to read the full post on Jill J. Marsh’s site.