This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Journaling for Creativity and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.
Sayings, slang, phrases and profanity
Journals are great places for saving overheard snippets of dialogue. People often say the most interesting things or even uninteresting things but said in interesting ways.
If you ‘tune-in’ to the people around you, they will reward you with a wonderful and never ending selection of sayings, idioms, slang, phrases and profanity; some of which will be worth keeping in your creative journal for later use or inspiration.
Neat tip: Keep a few pages at the back of your journal just for recording snippets of dialogue and make it easy to locate with a small tab or ribbon marker. Often, when capturing dialogue, there are time pressures and being able to easily find your dialogue collection goes a long way towards making this a regular habit.
There is a word of warning about recording overheard conversations and not just the obvious inherent privacy issues present. You will also need to be cautious of copying a conversation exactly and using it in your work. The speaker may be repeating something popular from a media source that you are unaware of. If it is then included in your work, and the reader encounters it, the recognition of it from another source can pull the reader out from the story. So if it’s really ‘good’, a quick internet search for provenance is a sound idea.
Conversations are not just a string of words
When noting conversations, pay attention to the construction of the sentence. Listen for words that are missing, misused, appear in unusual places or which seem to have a different meaning. Listen for where gaps and pauses are used, and realise that unfortunately, these don’t transcribe well on to the page. Be sure to listen carefully to the cadence and stressing of the words. The words written down on the page are only part of what your ears heard and you may have to develop your own method of recording pauses, gaps and stressed words in your recorded sentence.
Dialects are tricky and it is not best practice to use modified spellings to convey them to your reader; as anyone who has read any Mark Twain or Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, will testify. If you are considering using a rich dialect at a later time, then try to get an audio recording. You can then use the recording to find ways of injecting that nuance into new dialogue.
“…novelists even today are often tempted to write dialect – whether it be southern black or Bronx Italian or Locust Valley lockjaw – using a lot of trick spellings and lexical gimmicks. It’s the easy way out.
And like most easy ways, it’s not the best way.”
R Browne & D King, “Self-editing for Fiction Writers”
You can also make a journal entry where you record yourself, talking in the voice of your fictional character and using a specific speech style. Listen to it and then repeat recording sample sentences until you have the exact speech mannerisms locked in your head. Don’t overwrite your previous recordings as they may hold useful pointers as to why they weren’t perfect, or you may go back and come to the conclusion that a previous try was the right one after all. If you can ‘talk the talk’, you are halfway to being able to write it.
Photo credit: Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, by The Huntingdon Theatre Company.