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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Writing in Tongues

by Gurmeet Mattu (writer), Glasgow, December 23, 2009

Advice on writing believable characters for your fiction, from some characters themselves.

Listen then, my brothers and sisters, and I will tell thee of magic, of wondrous things and of ancient arts. I have much to tell, and all of interest to the seeker after wisdom, but mark this and mark it well, these skills are not for shallow men, but to make great those who would lead our humble race to greater things.
This then I tell to speed thee on thy quest, to place one's heart, one's very mind, into that of another, better to convey those things we wish to tell. For is it not known that our noble listeners do take amusement if the tale is told in many voices, rather than the pathetic squeaking of thy servant.
How then shall we, but made of clay, conduct this wondrous task, this work for godlings? It requires no runes or spells, I tell thee, and only the application of some simple practice.
But first, my brother and sisters, ye must know the one into whose skin you wish to climb, and this learning comes only from being in the company of thy victim, if I may so name him. Ye must gain knowledge from this closeness, and the more you cling the better shall be thy understanding. Note not only, my beloved friends, the tone of voice, but the turn of hem, for all things are of import in this matter.

Yeah, you gotta get to know the guy, but big style. Every little bit of him, what he eats, where he drinks, even things he don't know about himself. It's the only way to grab his voice. Sure you can imagine, you're some kinda creative writer, aintcha? Can't expect you to behave like no newshound and just tell what you see, but you gotta start with what you got. And what you got is a real live breathing human being, I hope, less he's a corpse, and you gotta watch out for his foibles. Foibles is important, cause they's what makes a guy the guy he is. Foibles is everything, from the cut of his suit, to the smell of his aftershave. The size of his wife's butt to where he buys his automobiles. I ain't kidding, the more you got, the better you'll know your man. Don't mean you have to put all that stuff on the page, just keep it in your head and the knowing will make your fella a more rounded and believable kinda guy.

For believability is the essence of our work. If we fail to convince the reader of the reality of the existence of our character then the whole dramatic experience is minimized if not totally destroyed. The reader's needs must be regarded as paramount, surpassing even the writer's desire to express herself in a voice she regards as totally her own. I'm sure I read an adage once about 'knowing thy enemy', not that I dwell upon such things, but similarly the writer must know the character she is writing. It is of no use to write of an African princess if one has no knowledge of how such a person exists. The honest writer will take her pencil and notebook in hand and research that existence. I do not of course expect her to travel to the dark continent in order to discover such truths, that would require too much of even the most generous of husbands, but in this modern age there are many public libraries where information on such matters is freely available. I would strongly urge every writer to learn the manners of the people she wishes to write if she wishes to speak in their voice.



About the Writer

Gurmeet Mattu is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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