If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book next year, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Please check our 2016 WWK Calendar for upcoming author interview dates.

Warren Bull will have two short stories, "A Christmas Journey" and "Killer Eulogy" in the upcoming Darkhouse anthology titled Black Coffee. The anthology is scheduled for release in May, 2016.

KM Rockwood's "Good Fences" appears on the December 2015 issue of Over My Dead Body. "Liquor Store Holdup" was published in v.2 #2 of Jack Hardway's Crime Magazine. March-April 2015. "Escape for Hell" is included in an anthology, Wreck of U-913 and Other Dark Stories, (November).

Maria Barbo at HarperCollins's Katherine Tegen Books has bought a debut YA fantasy by Sarah Henning, tentatively titled Heartless and pitched as the never-before-told origin story of the sea witch from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" told in the vein of Wicked – from the villainess's point of view. Publication is set for fall 2017; Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency did the deal for world rights. Congratulations, Sarah! --Publishers Weekly 11/9/15

Gloria Alden released the sixth book in her Catherine Jewell mystery series. Carnations for Cornelia is available at Amazon. Congratulations, Gloria.

Congratulations to WWK's Carla Damron. Carla's book, The Stone Necklace, will be released on February 2, 2016. Pat Conroy served as Carla's editor on this project. Grace Topping will interview Carla on February 10th at WWK about the book. For further information, look on Facebook or Amazon.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Words and Phrases That Make My Teeth Ache

Each of us overuses certain words in our speech or writing. We have traits we learned as a tyke or adopted later in life that help define who we are. They are as much a part of us as our hair style. In other words, we can change these word patterns if we choose, but it takes effort.

When I listen to people converse, I react to incorrect usage such as “Me and him went to the mall and…” the same way other people respond to chalk squeaks: it hurts so much I cringe. Of course it seems like only yesterday that I remember my grandparents yelling at the TV, “Winston tastes good AS a cigarette should.”

Language changes, but we tend to stick with those verbal mannerisms we learned growing up. To the careful listener these verbal tics come through regardless of later veneers. I don’t mean to say we don’t add new flourishes or that our vocabulary is frozen. (Although I’d be willing to bet it doesn’t grow much after schooling stops.)

I once sat on a barstool next to an expert in speech patterns. After talking with me for a while, he announced I had grown up in Upstate New York, lived a short time in the northern South (Virginia or North Carolina, say) and currently lived in the northeast New Jersey. Good thing I didn’t bet him. I grew up in the Rochester, NY area, spent second and third grades in Blacksburg, Virginia and was then living in Bergen County, New Jersey—it’s most northeastern county.

When I go back to Rochester, they talk with an accent highlighted by nasal a’s. My father has a tape of me drawling the Cub Scout pledge in third grade. In Bergen County, they do funny things with their r’s. I don’t know how this guy could be so accurate because I don’t sound like any of those places—but I guess to a trained ear, I do.

What is the value of listening for these telltale words, phrases or accents? Skillful writers drop them as verbal clues to characterization. I love it when an author grounds me with these little details.

Laura Lippman sets her novels in Baltimore (which native speakers pronounce as though there were no second syllable ) and has her characters say things like, “Joe was police before he passed the bar exam.” Not “Joe worked for the police,” or “Joe was a policeman.” In that region, Joe was police.

If I wanted to show a stuffy, erudite pundit, I’d have him sound like the late William F. Buckley, Jr. (although I’d need a thesaurus to do it). Low education: small vocabulary and improper grammar (no thesaurus necessary, but my teeth may ache). In one of my novels I have a minor character who never swears or uses contractions. No sh—I mean, no kidding.

How about you? Any examples from books you’ve read recently or works you’ve written?

~ Jim

3 comments:

E. B. Davis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E. B. Davis said...

Actually Jim, it’s the lack of colloquialness that I've found. Like the spread of Outback Steak House, Denny's, Office Depot, etc. writers seem to homogenize language. I'm guilty too. One thing I try to do, is abbreviate words the way people do talk, cutting off the first or last syllable. I'll also change where I place commas, even if incorrect, if it makes the sentence pause in the manner a character sounds in my head. My pet peeve doesn't occur in books, but personally, when people pronounce Elaine, A-lane. Southerners seem to do this more than others.
One of my questions is, if my character swears, will I get pulled from a cozy category on the shelf to another? Marketing plays a role in the language we use in our scripts. A sad but relevant fact.

Ramona said...

I love that "Joe was police" line. Those three words say a lot about the character, the setting and the writer.

Good stuff to think about, Jim.

I don't mean to be a troublemaker, but I think A-lane is kind of cute. Of course, I am from the South.