Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Flailing in the Wind

That’s just what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. Flitting from one pastime to the next, never really concentrating on one thing. Some days I’ll tweet like mad, others I’ll personally tweet nothing (although my twitterfeeds make it look like I’m still around). I might be playing video games with Jr one day and taking him for a bike ride the next. I’ve been all over the web looking at all sorts of sites. I’ve read a whole bunch of stuff, all of it as diverse as I think it could possibly be.

And I’ve avoided blogging, which is why I’ve provided a few excerpts from my books instead.

The whole point of this is to clear my head. I want my head free of clutter when I come to tackle the second draft of Eternally & Evermore before I submit it to Phaze. And I think I’m just about there. I think I’m just about ready to open the manuscript up and start hacking away at the fat and adding in those details.

I think.

All this flailing and flitting I’ve been doing has opened my eyes to a few things that I hadn’t really considered before. And it’s taken me odd routes to get there. Let me try and explain one of them.

I’ve read a couple of stories by a popular author on the SOL website who writes very, very sweet romances. Sickly sweet sometimes but they are nice to read nonetheless. (Damn I love my new Android phone that means I can finally read e-books on the go – not to mention get on the internet. I digress)

This particular author is very, very easy to read – which is perhaps why he’s so popular. But there is one thing he does which annoys the hell out of me as a reader. Not enough for me to stop reading – I’ve managed to blank myself out to it most of the time – but it’s still annoying. In his dialogue he has a habit of using bold characters to show which words the character speaking is putting emphasis on. Now, this annoys me for two reasons. First, emphasis should be shown with italics not bold, but that’s just formatting. Second, I’d like to think that I’m an intelligent enough reader to be able to work out how the character has said those words, and which words he is stressing, without the author shoving it down my throat. I’d like to think that the author can credit me and his other readers with that intelligence.

This, however, has forced me to look at my own writing. I like to think that I do credit my readers with a fair bit of intelligence and I’d like to think that ninety-nice percent of the time I can trust them to read a characters speech in the way I’m hearing the character say those words in my head as I write them. Only very rarely do I use italics to put stress on a particular word in a piece of dialogue – and then only when I think it’s too important to risk the reader getting the stress of the sentence wrong.

Then I thought about this attitude and considered that perhaps the author above is correct. Why? Consider this. Let’s say you gave two talented artists who paint in a similar style a piece of narrative to read describing a particular scene and then asked them draw a picture of the place the scene takes place in. What are the chances they will draw the exact same picture. Slim to none, I’d wager. The two drawings might be similar and I’d hope that the particular elements that the writer wrote about would all be in the correct place and look the same, but all the other details – the filler that the writer didn’t feel the need to describe – would be different in both pictures because the artist's minds would have filled in the details differently based on their own experiences.

And I’d be willing to also bet that if the original writer of the scene drew the same picture – the one that was in his head as he wrote – it would be different again.

So if this is true for scenery, why not dialogue? Can I possibly be right to assume that all readers will hear the words my characters are speaking in the same way that I am hearing them being spoken? Probably not. I only have to listen to Stephen Fry read the Harry Potter novels to know that he speaks the dialogue differently from how I hear it in my head when I read. And chances are it’s different to the way JKR hears the dialogue in her head too.

So maybe I should be showing where the emphasis in a sentence is more often when my characters speak because surely the way in which they speak affects the way in which the reader views them just as much as what they actually say.

Or maybe I shouldn’t. After all, I do like to think that I can credit my readers with enough intelligence to know the meaning behind what my characters say and so be able to work out for themselves how it's said. It’s a tricky one. I don’t think this winding path my thoughts have taken me down will affect the way I write – except maybe encourage me to describe the scenery in more detail – but it has been helpful to justify to myself what I am currently doing.

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