Writing What You Don't Know: The Assistants

Discussion in 'Make It So' started by jacktrash, Aug 3, 2016.

  1. hyrax

    hyrax we'll ride 'till the planets collide

    it's not exactly the same as writing, but i play a lot of d&d, and a lot of the people i play with do a "character voice"-- either an accent or pitch to their voice that is completely different from their normal speaking voice. well, i absolutely cannot sustain any affect that strong for very long when i'm speaking... but i also want to differentiate all my various characters from each other (i am in 3 different games, with at least some of the same people in each, right now) and also from me the player. so i think about their personalities, the kind of things they care about, and even their education levels. Neri is confident and kind of egotistical, comes from an upper-class background, and is a born performer; when i'm playing them i use a lot of big words and kind of pretentious phrasing, but always speak really passionately and confidently about everything. Droctmund is a tough, no-nonsense country doctor with a heart of marshmallow, and with him i speak brusquely and get to the point immediately without sugarcoating things. Gaius... well, Gaius has a big Tragic Backstory (tm) and is therefore manipulative as a survival strategy. so i'm friendly and disarming and a bit self-effacing to most people, and he has very little formal education so i don't use very many "fancy" or technical words. (and when he's being honest, i'm either halting and awkward or speaking through barely restrained anger.) so, even though all these characters speak with my upper midwestern american accent and alto voice, they come across as different people.

    as others are saying, think about who they are, where they come from, and what their conversational goals are, and it can really help you differentiate.

    (tonight we're playing a 1-shot, and my character is a warlock who is basically the arcane version of a mad scientist. i plan on being chipper and friendly and just so fascinated by all these deadly magical traps. hopefully to the point it starts feeling unnerving. :D)

    edit edit: took out half a thought i accidentally posted
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
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  2. artistformerlyknownasdave

    artistformerlyknownasdave revenge of ricky schrödinger

    for me, a lot of it is just "going with the flow" of what i think fits the character, but there's a lot of little quirks that i think are what really makes them unique. using my OCs as example here. asher uses "like" all the time; swears often, usually for ~spice~ rather than in anger; has a penchant for juvenile humor, melodrama, and hyperbole; defaults to calling people "man" "dude" "bro" or increasingly weird variations thereof (like "duderino"), and has a nasty tendency for passive aggression. he's meme-literate. these individually are pretty basic, but even one or two helps him stand out as a distinct character. all together, they make him unique both on his own, or within the cast of characters he regularly interacts with.

    for aodhan, he physically cannot lie. that in itself adds a lot of distinctiveness to his speech patterns by sheer necessity, since things like sarcasm are right out. he flips between being blunt and to the point, or obnoxiously evasive and vague, depending on circumstance, and is prone to asking leading questions instead of making statements. he's also snappish and has a bit of an ego, and can both be extremely smug and condescending about his own knowledge base, as well as deeply naive about human behavior

    these little traits sort of piled themselves on as i kept writing, until i had a set of parameters that were distinct from others and instantly recognizable as themselves. i'm definitely more of a "wing it" type person, but i think these kinds of little quirks are good to look out for when coming up with character voices. a lot of it for me is: what personality traits am i writing? how do i reflect that trait in their speech? asher desperately craves attention, and that fuels a huge amount of how he talks--he's melodramatic and obnoxious and over the top because that kind of thing makes people look at you. aodhan has a lot of insecurities and anxieties, and that's part of why he's so fiercely defensive of his ego.
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  3. LadyNighteyes

    LadyNighteyes Wicked Witch of the Radiant Historia Fandom

    On a strictly technical level, it can sometimes help to look for/think of rules to follow in a character's dialogue that run counter to how you'd default to phrasing it, even little ones. F'rinstance, the fandom I mostly write in is a video game, so there are a lot of ellipses in the canon dialogue, but I noticed that while the main character often precedes his sentences with ellipses, he almost never has them in the middle or at the end. So I started writing him with the assumption that he lines up the entire sentence in his head before he opens his mouth and not using constructions that require hesitating in the middle (e.g. "And I- I took the road less traveled by") and that has, at least to me, made my writing of his dialogue sound way more like it should.

    It also helps to figure out what makes you sound like you, so you can tone down some of those traits or deploy them tactically as needed. I do a lot of hedging about degree of specificity (words like "generally," "particularly," "precisely," "vaguely," "specifically," "certainly," "usually," "often") and sardonically talking around things, and those are both things I watch for when writing dialogue with an eye to whether I'm just saying it because it's what I would say.
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  4. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    A) yes yes yes excellent advice B) where can I read, anything you wrote
  5. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Agreed, that's really helpful! Thank you.
  6. LadyNighteyes

    LadyNighteyes Wicked Witch of the Radiant Historia Fandom

    Well, if you're interested in spoilerific fanfiction for an obscure Japanese RPG, over here.
  7. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist

    "And it was turning out, to [character]'s annoyance, that if you fired all of those people, there wouldn't be enough people who knew the filing systems and where the brooms were kept to keep the government running."

    Help, I've fallen into this fic and I can't get out

    (or join me)
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  8. LadyNighteyes

    LadyNighteyes Wicked Witch of the Radiant Historia Fandom

    I may have had an excessive amount of fun writing that one, yes. Definitely better if you know the canon, though, because otherwise you can't appreciate how utterly rancid the "soul of a diplomat" pun is.
  9. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    On a more specific note, I have a male character who has a crush on a female character and I want them to eventually hook up. They kind of have a Lady and the Tramp thing going, she was cast out of high society and he taught her to survive on the street, and he still thinks he's not good enough for her, so he hasn't pursued it. Am I successfully avoiding Nice Guy territory and how do I make sure I don't fall into that with their arc?
  10. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    what you described has nothing to do with Nice Guy behavior either way, so i don’t know what to tell you. regardless of their circumstances: is he being good/kind/helpful because that’s how he rolls, or as a sort of currency to buy romance/sex? that’s what you need to determine.
  11. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Okay, that's a relief to know. "Nice" is not a thing he does well, but he doesn't do it to buy her affections, so I guess I'm safe there? Maybe I'm using the wrong term. I was worried that having him end up with the girl sends a message of how girls have to end up with guys who are reasonably pleasant/helpful to them, so there needs to be a reason for her to like him on top of that...
  12. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    well, i mean, you should probably make him likeable... :D
  13. jacktrash

    jacktrash spherical sockbox

    or just lickable jesse no
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  14. Misty Pond

    Misty Pond professional lover of abused anime girls

    is the whole 'people whose native language is not english cursing in said language' thing actually, like, a real thing people who know multiple languages do, or is it another of those misinformed common knowledge things? like...german people defaulting to cursing in german instead of in english even though they're speaking english in context, for instance, which I've seen in quite a few anime fanfic
  15. TheSeer

    TheSeer 37 Bright Visionary Crushes The Doubtful

    If you're not fluent enough to think in the second language, and you're cursing from surprise or pain, I can't imagine why you'd use anything but your native standbys. If you left me alone in Madrid or Buenos Aires for two weeks, I know enough Spanish to not die, but if I stubbed my toe on day 14 I would absolutely say "fuck".
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  16. TheOwlet

    TheOwlet A feathered pillow filled with salt and science

    Also depends on what you wanna curse and why. There are some curses in german that english just lacks the proper equivalent for.

    so sometimes you just gotta call someone an Arschgeige because that's what they are and english is lacking.
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  17. keltena

    keltena putting the fun in executive dysfunction

    Yeah, I've also mostly heard that people default to their native language for reflexive reactions like the surprise and pain examples mentioned above—both for cursing, and for stuff like "ow". (Or rather, default to whatever language they originally/primarily learned that particular reaction in, anyway.) And while I don't speak any foreign languages at more than a beginner-intermediate level, in my anecdotal experience so far, it does take a lot more conscious effort and practice to start doing that kind of thing in a second language than it does to just hold a conversation? For example, I know how to say things like "um" and "oh" in Japanese way better than I know a lot of the grammar and vocab I've tried to use in conversations, but it's still much more difficult to keep myself from reflexively saying them in English than it is to put together an unfamiliar sentence.
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  18. Mercury

    Mercury 17 Quicksilver Scribe Tramples The Unrepentant

    My Finnish husband absolutely reverts to Finnish for most swearing purposes. He's been fluent in English for decades now, and mostly speaks English to me.
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  19. witchknights

    witchknights 27 Bold Enchanter Defends The Fearful

    I speak English about as fluently as I speak Portuguese (if you ignore the thick accent) and I revert to Portuguese either when muttering to myself/reacting/not concerned about being actually understood or when English just doesn't have the word for what I want to say (it is not a curse but nothing will substitute eita, for example)
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  20. hyrax

    hyrax we'll ride 'till the planets collide

    yeah, people might use a swear in a sentence-- in English swears frequently function as an intensifier, so saying "traffic is really fucking bad" vs "traffic is really bad" or whatever would probably happen in English for a fluent ESL speaker. but then if you're swearing as a reaction or out of anger or frustration, most people will default to their first language.
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