Its Not So Much What You Say, But How You Say It

By: Tia Love

Eric Jerome Dickey is one of the most amazing men I have never met. I picked up his third book, Milk in My Coffee, back in 2003, and although I had never been in a serious relationship in my life (I was 14 for christ sakes!), I felt the relationship between the two main characters. Imagine that, a fresh teen, having barely felt lips upon my own, I was relating to a make-believe interracial couple in their 30s. How was that possible? From the moment I opened the book to the first page, I was completely picked up out of my own reality and placed in the one he had created.

It was the way his characters talked. The language was reminiscent of something I might hear walking through my own neighborhood or riding the bus to work. Dickey didn’t mince words, and he made his characters talk in a way a young woman growing up in an urban setting could understand.

Language is another one of those factors that will either make or break your story. You can’t have your story set in 1776, during the middle of the Revolutionary War, but have your characters talking like you and I do everyday in 2014. Its unrealistic and it will turn your readers off to your book before they can really get into it.

Here are a few things to remember when developing language for your work:

  • the language should match the time period and the setting of your novel. This one kind of speaks for itself. Unless you’re  writing a novel about extreme time travel, everyone in it should sound like they belong there.
  • Use the language that is native to your genre. you know, romance should sound cheesy and almost make your stomach turn with each word, thrillers should make you sleep with the light on and the covers pulled up over your head, etc.
  • Each of your characters should have their own unique voice, even if they’re twins! You don’t want them to sound like you and you don’t want them to sound like each other. What kind of personality does your character have? Give them a voice and words that match up with that personality.

Don’t skimp when it comes to language. The words you use and the way you put them together will help transport your reader across dimensions. It’s going to be hard, and that will be irritating, but if it were easy, everyone would do, right?

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