People ask me all the time (no they don’t) how they can make their writing better. Because I’m a master of my craft (please) and I’m wildly successful (I have published work, I wouldn’t call it wildly successful) I’m constantly bombarded for advice (never, that’s how often. Never.) on making writing better.
So here’s the secret, and maybe everyone will leave me alone (please ask me questions… I’m so lonely):
Read it out loud.
It’s that simple (no, really, it is. I promise). Read it out loud. You want better dialogue? Read it out loud. Want to know if a passage flows? Read it out loud.
Humans know what other humans sound like. We listen to people constantly (as long as you’re able to listen, that is) and we’re bombarded by a multitude of different speech patterns, education levels, and backgrounds. You want to write convincing inner-city black youth dialogue? Go find some, listen tot hem, and then come back and write it. Then READ IT OUT LOUD.
You want to do English? Go find some. Scottish? Go find some. Irish? Go… you get the point.
Then, you write it down, approximating the way you think it should look ont he page (see ProAm Tip #11 for when and how much visual dialect to use) and then…
can you guess?
Read it out loud.
I read everything I write out loud, for two reasons:
It helps me get the speech patterns and language of various characters down pat and;
It helps me find spelling and grammar errors I wouldn’t normally pick up because our eyes routinely lie to us like terrified two-year-olds sneaking cookies.
I like the sound of my own voice (Okay, three reasons)
I’m the only one who knows what I’m shooting for (Okay, four…)
You’re the one who invented these people. You’re the one who knows how much schooling they’ve had, and how extensive their vocabulary is, and whether they swear like sailors (Why don’t you go play hide and go fuck yourself?) or like kindergarten teachers (Oh, fudge, i scorched my muffins… and my hand. And I cut off the tip of a finger. Phooey.) or if they just make shit up (Oh, mother… monkey-mistresses!) or whatever.
When you read it out loud, you’ll find yourself acting it out. You won’t be able to help it. We’re natural actors, all of us, to one degree or another, especially when it comes to our own work. You KNOW these characters. You know these situations. You know what you intended, and when you read it out loud, you’ll see if you’re getting it right.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Tune in next time when I try to exorcise the demon in my head that keeps heckling me (Fat chance, weirdo!)