Monday, June 15, 2009

The Things We Say

Elizabeth McKenzie where are you? We've still got two copies of Zora and Nicky by Claudia Mair Burney, just for you! Please, oh please send us your address! And don't forget, dear readers, that this month we will be giving away a copy of Talking to the Dead by our own Bonnie Grove. Leave a comment, and we'll enter you into the drawing. If you have recently started following us, we at Novel Matters want you to know that we are thrilled to have your company, and we hope you will chime in on the stimulating discussions that take place in our comments.

What lengths will a writer go to to write great dialog? I once took a course from T. Davis Bunn, in which he revealed that he had once frequented coffee shops with a voice-activated recorder tucked into his pocket. Later, he transcribed the overheard conversations, so he could study the rhythm and pattern of speech.

All to improve his writing, you see.

I ended up buying myself a recorder after that, but never had the nerve to use it the way he did. I have, however, been known to take some very, very detailed notes in church.

When I wrote To Dance in the Desert, I watched Hugh Grant movies to think through the way two of my characters would talk. I wish I'd known my friend, the British poet Mandy Sutter at the time. If I had, Tom and Jane might have, from time to time, admitted that they were "chuffed" to hear some bit of good news. If they were really happy, they might have been "dead chuffed," and if they were delirious, they might have been "chuffed to little mint balls." Talk like that tempts me to write another British character.

I hope it's no surprise that I love language. I'll bet you do, too. You probably have a whole lexicon of funny sayings you were raised with that you've passed on as a (perhaps dubious) legacy to your children.

I grew up hearing about loud noises and sudden appearances of quiet folks who "scared the piewadden" out of others. Then one day years ago, I'd dropped in to pick my son up from third grade, when I heard a little girl demand, "Alex! What's a piewadden?"

The answer? I haven't the slightest, though it seems to be a substance that bursts out of frightened people.

I have on my desk a lovely book titled Informal English by Jeffrey Kacirk. I'm not certain it's much use when determining what a particular character, with a particular background would say in a given situation, but it's still great fun for browsing.

You do browse dictionaries for fun, right?

Here are a few that I like:

box of teeth: an accordion.

happifying: making happy.

Mississippi marbles: dice.

Jump in, please. Tell us the turns of phrases you hold nearest your heart.

We'd love to hear what flips your switch.


Elizabeth McKenzie said...

You're kidding. I won something? I'm sorry, I've been . . . well, busy and apparently remiss. I apologize. How can I get my address to you?

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

Your contact button doesn't work.

Kathleen Popa said...

Elizabeth, mail your address to novelmatters at gmail dot com. So glad we found you, and so thrilled you won!

Janet said...

I like the word kerfuffle. And a whole pile of other words that staunchly refuse to spring to mind now that you're asking for them.

Patti Hill said...

I was born in hog country. We'd be driving along, windows down, wind whipping our hair into our faces, and like walking into a post the air turned fetid. My mother would yell out, "OOH-WHEE! Fresh strawberries!"

I have no idea where she got the saying, but whenever I smell something,well, richly organic, I think of that saying. And strawberries come to mind. This is a good thing.

Later, when I was forbidden to swear, my friend and I came up with "Oh, fudge bunnies!" as a substitute. Still use it on occasion.

Janet, how do you use kerfuffle?

Janet said...

A kerfuffle is a state of noisy confusion, an uproar, a commotion.

There was quite a kerfuffle when Sally told her family of her intention to marry George.

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh Janet, yes, "kerfufle" is one of my husband's words. He has a lot of them, and like you, when I try to remember, I can't. Maybe I should just set him down and say, "Go on: talk."

But it reminds me of a couple more favorites: Try "fisty-cuffs." Sort of makes a fight sound like fun, don't you think?

Another favorite is "kahoots," to signify that someone is conspiring, "in kahoots" with someone else.

Janet said...

Those aren't perfectly normal words? I'm flabbergasted. Gobsmacked. To the point of having a conniption.

Latayne C. Scott said...

Part of my novel Latter-day Cipher takes place in Tennessee, the protagonist's home state. I had a ball choosing great phrases from there, familiar to me because both my husband and my parents grew up in west Tennessee.

Many of those phrases didn't survive the editorial process. Others which never made it into the manuscript were ones I couldn't find any written verification for. For instance, my husband's mom called stupid people something that sounded like "stornadel apes" or "stornadel idiots." Anybody ever heard that phrase?


Latayne C Scott

Unknown said...

My editor e-mailed me the other day with a favorite sentence from my current work (won't see light of day until next June!) - she loved:

"I followed at a rabbit's pace, nattering--yes, nattering like a jackhammer"

She and a friend are challenging each other on who can use the word "nattering" the best in their facebook status. :)

Being Canadian, I've noticed several small, but interesting differences between what is normal usage of words and what is considered "different" in the US.

My agent laughs at my referring to my children as "gaffers", and I recently noted on an interview an idea of mine that went into the "dustbin" - it was rubbish!

I enjoy fun "new" or less used words as long as the meaning is clear through context.