So here, to use a well-worn Americanism, is the thing. Dialogue. Speech. Conversation.
Yesterday I set myself the challenge of writing some of the descriptive sections of the pieces I had already started, or of producing new pieces which were description heavy. So far most of what I have written is more like a script for a play, with occasional nods to place or weather for stage direction.
I sat and wrote, achingly slowly, a couple of hundred of painful, school essay words about the main character as a child. Then I heard another character suddenly say “I can’t live like that!” And I saw her as clear as anything, in a café, throwing her head back in defiance, then starting to cry. I went with it, and produced about 2500 words without breaking a sweat.
Friends, it turns out my characters are a right gobby lot. They just never shut up. Even when they are deep in thought, they are muttering under their breath or filling a conversation with placeholders, like “Well, right, OK.”
Those who know the human me, friends and colleagues, will at this point roll their eyes to heaven and say something like “Really, EBL?” in that heavy, drawly way. They will indicate, verbally or otherwise, that this fact is hardly worthy of breaking news; they will imply, assert or outright state that they are not in the least amazed to learn that characters I write are a bit chatty.
I suspect they think I could talk the hind leg off a donkey.
They may be right. I would try it as an experiment but apparently there are laws against that. It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you.
In my head there are voices, and they belong to my characters. I can hear the Cockney (although I can’t write it without coming across like Dick Van Dyke), the Yorkshire, the Home Counties accents. I can hear the turn of phrase and emphasis on certain words. It’s Babel, pure and simple, or possibly Bedlam. Some place that is noisy and begins with B, like Basingstoke or Belgium.
I can see them too, standing in drizzly streets with light reflecting off the pavement, wisps of hair hanging down, soaked and glistening under the street lights. Yes, it is London. But I haven’t got time to tell you that, because keeping up with their conversation is fast and frantic work. If I stop to write about the place or people or artefacts, they give me the eye and tap their feet, or start to whisper and point. Cheeky buggers.
So I may have to remain a slave to their whim until they are all talked out and the story told. If I accept this challenge, then I accept it for all of us, and we have to wrok together to get the final pieces on the page. And only then, perhaps, will I crawl back to my thesaurus and find twenty words for rain.
Do your characters bully you like this?