Do you hear your characters speak?

It’s such a simple question and, when I was asked it recently, I unequivocally said, ‘Yes. Always.’ That ‘Yes’ needs some qualifying.

England is a land of wonderful regional accents that are greatly affected by upbringing – class and education for example. My novels are set in County Durham, up in the north-east corner of the country. (Clue: the series is called the County Durham Quad.) Only one of the four protagonists, Mike, is truly local though. The other men have gravitated to the county, from Cheshire, Warwickshire and Tyneside (the last two 5 and 11 on the map.) The Quad’s friend, Nick, is a Londoner.

Ceremonial counties of England. Authors Morwen Marnanel and Evian Pepper Attribution below ***

So, when I’m writing dialogue or passages of silent introspection, do I hear the words spoken in all their regional glory? Actually, no. I hear sounds and intonation much as I’d use them myself. Basically northern, but a bit of a mash as I’ve lived and worked in the south-east for years.

It’s not just accents however. It’s idioms and dialect. All those non-standard features that confuse outsiders even when we break through the accent barrier – and I’ve no hope of ‘hearing’ some of those! Consider, for example, the output of What’s Thy Craic. It’s the Bishop Auckland-based tee-shirt company owned by the excellent Andy Ditchfield and Gaz Miller. (Gaz rode the bike that’s featured in one of my videos. Andy filmed and produced them. *) Each garment carries a phrase that would be understood, no doubt, by the good folk of Bishop. Total bemusement for folk like me who aren’t au fait with the lingo. Thoughtfully (necessarily) Gaz and Andy have added translations! My Mike, ex-cop, biker, sometimes anti-hero, is from Bishop, but I’ve never ‘heard’ him using any of these arcane pearls of wisdom. He’d be aware of them (His mam would anyway) but as they’re (delightfully) alien to me, I don’t ‘hear’ them in Mike’s speech.

But speech isn’t just about the sorts of features that locate a person regionally and socially. It’s an expression of character and that’s what I hear when I write. I hear the men behind the words.

One of the most encouraging comments I’ve received about my writing was Justene Adamec’s when she reviewed Book 6 in the series, Fast, Free and Flying.** As Justene is one of the people behind publisher, ReQueered Tales, she gets to see a lot of books! She said that the men have unique voices. I’m pretty sure she meant all five of them, Nick as well as the guys in the Quad, and I was well chuffed. (Chuffed= pleased, very.) I’ve got better at writing ‘uniqueness’ as I’ve learnt to know the little gang. In all honesty, I don’t think Justene would have made that comment had she been reading Books 1 and 2. By 3, I was getting things sorted. Now, the speeches, whether voiced or silent with introspection, more or less flow.

I know, for example, that Raith’s thoughts will tumble out in a flood of what Mike calls Raith’s ‘lateral non-thinking’. Very different from Phil, Raith’s husband, who is careful and cautious and likes to consider his words before expressing them. Mike himself has an impatient, no-nonsense streak. It’s echoed in his sharp retorts and in his often-clipped sentences. (Few pronouns at the start. Few final ‘g’s at the ends, though no ‘g’s is also a bit of his accent showing – showin’) It also explains his swearing. Quicker to curse than think of a few choice words (and, often, more effective). So it’s left to Ross to encourage the guys and pour oil on their troubled waters, which he does in his easy-going, always supportive manner. He says the kinds of things that I’d say myself if I had to deal with the other three. Well, the kinds of things that I’d like to think I’d say myself. I’d probably just yell at them. The point is, I know how they are going to react to events and to each other. Their reactions are part of who they are and I know, by now, the sound of those reactions. Obviously I edit, but the revisions are mainly structural, plot and conciseness for example. They’re rarely concerned with the way the characters voice their thoughts. It’s one of the reasons I decided to do the videos. (Extracts over Andy’s stunning footage) Speak the words aloud – the way I always, always, always hear them. ‘Nuff said. Here are some links.

*https://whatsthycraic.com (10% of nett sales support a Bishop Auckland charity) Gaz is an artist. See https://jgmillerart.co.uk and tech-wizard Andy’s site is http://www.skywardaerial.co.uk

**Justene’s review: https://www.queerwritersofcrime.com .Podcast January 19th 2021, around 5 minutes in.

***Ceremonial counties map (Tyneside is part of Tyne and Wear) Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0. GNU Free Documentation License. Permission GFDL.

Me, Jude Tresswell: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhPb-WpyW3fUXnqjvTnCqA

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