In a creative writing class I had several years ago, the teacher cautioned against writing in dialect. The irony was that at the same time I was taking an Advanced Placement English class that assigned several books written in that particular style. Throughout high school and subsequently college I have periodically read books written in dialect, and I can see why it isn’t common place anymore.
“There Eyes Were Watching God” is often hailed as a classic, and assigned in classrooms all across the country. I struggled to get through it, I could barely make out what the characters were saying. I love reading, obviously since I’m a writer, but reading books written entirely or mostly in dialect is an insurmountable challenge for me. I can figure it out, but my brain wants to fix the words which means it makes reading slow.
Authors are called to “show nor tell” in their stories, and writing in dialect is one way to accomplish that. To me, though this shows the pitfalls of relying too heavily on showing and not implementing it wisely. Sometimes, writing short bursts of dialogue, such as a few lines, might be a creative way to show a character’s accent. Writing an entire book that way is clunky. That isn’t me saying I claim to be a better writer than these classical authors, but I share this perspective to let others know that if they feel the same, they aren’t alone. If you are like me, then dialect can be not only clunky, but distracting from the overall plot. Thank goodness it is a product of the past.
I have written about avoiding clichés, and even pointing out clichés that aren’t discussed often. Something else came to my attention recently. Most stories have clichés, in fact I cannot think of a single book, movie, or TV show that completely avoids clichés. Perhaps there is something out there that doesn’t utilize an overused trope in its story, but I do not believe I encountered one.
The issue is how often do clichés appear and how they are utilized. There are common threads that bind genres together, obviously, that is what makes them genres. Yet, when something like a magical weapon that must be found, or destroyed in order to destroy the big bad is used, we automatically think of Tolkien. In fact, that cliché is so overused in the fantasy genre that a story guilty of using this type of plot will be accused of being a Lord of the Rings rip-off. However, lesser-used clichés, like a character finding what he needs in the middle of the book will be less obnoxious and more forgivable.
Stories that have noticeably less clichés and strive to be their own tale, instead of a repackage of their inspiration are what authors strive for. In the search for originality, it is easy to loop back around into the territory of cliché once again. Us writers should always intend to avoid things that are over used, but sometimes it is inevitable. Just like in the real world, things repeat. It is simply important to know when and where to use them and to be careful.
In our era of skepticism, cold, unadulterated rationality is often valued. Science has lifted the curtain on certain superstitions and wives’ tales. Most people in the modern western world strive to be rational, and scientific. We don’t want to be like our ancestors that believed diseases were cause by curses. Most of the time we try to bring that rationality into our everyday lives, particularly our relationships. But just how rational are we as a species? Everyone knows that humans are biased, yet there is more to it than that. I believe people are emotional first and rational second.
Whether we realized it or not, we are emotionally invested into the world around us. I theorize that our emotional connections to things run far deeper than any of us realize. Emotions are what drive us, what connects us to our beliefs, I wager far more than any evidence or rationality. Emotions are not bad things and how they intertwine with our beliefs can be beneficial, for example it can drive us to learn why we believe what we believe. Rationality too can intermingle with emotion and help us see whether we believe something simply because we want to or if there is evidence to support it.
Emotion, dare I say, contributes to our openness and willingness to accept rational thinking and beliefs. If we have a strong emotional attachment to the truth, we I’ll search for it ourselves, despite what common consensus may say. Therefore, being emotional beings isn’t always a bad thing, but I feel it is something we must be aware of.
Previously I wrote how I feel that people often do not want the level of honesty they ask for. Often our friends and family claim they want absolute honesty from us, but if we give it, despite being gentle, it backfires. I recognize this isn’t always the case, but it is something that appears to happen quite frequently. For us writers, feedback is essential to our business. We need to know if our stories and characters are relatable to our audience. Honesty of people also plays a role in characterization. Characters are believable based on their interactions with each other and the world around them in the story.
It is difficult when you spend months or years crafting a tale and making it available to the public. Will readers enjoy it? Will your audience connect to the characters as well as you have? Just as we ask for honesty in our relationships, us writers should not only ask for, but accept honest feedback when it comes. When we put so much of ourselves into a book, we must fight our urge to get defensive when someone doesn’t react the way we would like. A book an author has written is like his child, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss any criticism.
Sometimes though readers simply miss the point or bring their own presuppositions to your novel and that taints their experience. Sometimes there are things us authors can do to remedy that, but usually not. For my first short story I got feedback that it needed more to the story, but that was at a time when both sequels were published and “more” was already available. Some of my feedback, especially with the first book, was a little disappointing but incredibly valuable. Everyone will form an opinion on your works, that is inevitable, and like all opinions, discernment must be utilized.
In order for authors to create well-rounded characters they must be familiar with real people and themselves. Honesty, and how people react to it is a key component to crafting characters. How well will the cast within the story respond to honesty? Do some prefer lies? No? Why not? There are many people in the real world that do. These are things that we must ponder. Not only though how a character responds to honesty, but why do they react in a certain way? This is where my observations on honesty in the last post ties together with my writing. I hope that as I continue to learn about others and myself I am able to better hone my writing skills.