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Language, it's gotta fit

Scarface and Swish
by Jude Mason

The door swung open letting in the heat of the late August afternoon into the ramshackle bar. Scarface grumbled, then turned and scowled at the slender man who entered. Blond and fair-skinned, the entire room had to know the silk suited twit wasn't 'one of them' he was much too simpering, too pale and much, much too clean. Before the swish sat down, Scarface slammed his half empty beer mug on the filthy bar and rose to his feet, unsteadily, and shambled across the room.

Simpering swish turned and looked at him, a large buck-toothed smile on his face. His right hand, the nails gleaming with polish, reached out, limp-wristed, towards Scarface. "I'm Sammy, what do you want, asshole?" Even his voice was out of place, thin and reedy, a pitch too high to be manly.

"I'd be much obliged if you'd turn your feet that-away and go somewhere else," Scarface growled, ignoring the proffered hand.

"Why you piece of shit, lowlife asshole, why would I do that?" Sammy replied in a simpering snivel.

"Because, if you refuse, I'll have to show you the door."

"Yeah," Sammy cringed, his face gone white. "I've seen the fuckin door. Now, fuck off!"

Scarface's blood boiled. The swish was asking for trouble. "Listen, Sammy, you'll simply have to go. There's no place for the likes of you here. We're all rough, tough bikers, can't you see that?" The last few words came out with a spattering of spittle.

Okay, I'm not sure if that worked, but it was fun. What I'm really trying to get at here is, language is flexible, beautiful and amazing fun to play with. Characters, people, speak a certain way and as readers you expect the characters to comply with a set of unwritten rules. The biker doesn't sound like he'd pass the Grey Poupon, the sissy doesn't come out with guttural snarls and language that'd make a logger blush.

I'm really a firm believer in using language appropriate to the character. If the harsher words upset you, or you prefer not to use them, don't write characters who would normally use them.

As for what words I won't use? If you mean Jude the wife, mother, grandmother, I tend to fit the words to who I'm talking to. I've been known to curse viciously and foully. Cutting one's thumb with a hedge trimmer will make the meekest of us creative in the use of language. LOL Yet, I'm sure if my grand son had been there, I'd have bitten off a goodly portion of them and screamed REALLY loud instead.

Jude the author doesn't shy away from many words. I'm not fond of purple prose, but have used them in my time. Flowery bugs me, yet vile vernaculars makes me smile. I once read a poem in an outhouse that was inspiring. It rhymed and it was totally swear words. And it made sense. I was impressed. I laughed and pointed it out to my daughter, who was in her twenties at the time. She thought I was a tad weird, but she laughed too.

Okay, back to Scarface and Swish. The language I used didn't fit them. If it had, the story could have gone on quite nicely. Poor Swish would have been either tossed out on his ear or something worse. The way I wrote it, made it pretty much impossible to get into the story. We expect things and are confused when we don't get it. Writers learn this or have trouble finding readers.

What do you all think? Have you ever read something where the language pulled you out of the story? What words bother you? Why?


*Jude Mason – Readers needed: Come, explore with me…if you dare*


Mina Dorian said...

While I totally agree with you that how a person speaks must definitely fit the whole picture you're creating of that character, I just thought that sometimes the kind of "out of character" things you made Scarface say there can create a hilariously funny effect. I mean, just imagine him ambling over to Swish's table as if he were going to throw him out and then politely asking for the HP sauce or the salt cellar. That'd be fun, don't you think?

Jude Mason said...

Hi Mina,

Yes, that would be hilarious! Comedy definitely has its place in romance, erotica and any other genre. If that's what the author was aiming for. I guess that's my point, if you're going for comedy, dive in. But if your characters are supposed to be serious, then think about their language.

Thanks so much for dropping in and commenting!


Ray said...

I once saw a movie, Angel of H.E.A.T. in which the Asian man had a Scandinavian accent, the blond man had a Japanese accent and the Brit and American switched accents. It was hilarious. The other aspect of the movie that didn't fit was that the main female character was Marilyn Chambers who was not the porn star. The movie was done as a serious spy vs spy with the crazy dialog.


Lisabet Sarai said...

It's not just in dialogue that the language has to fit. Sometimes I'll write stories in which the rawest words are appropriate. For other stories, the language just has to be softer, more metaphorical. It's in the nature of the plot and the characters - even if they're not speaking.

Charlie Richards said...

LOL - I had to read some of that dialogue twice, just to double check who was saying what!

Yes, dialogue makes the story. If the characters don't speak the way they're portrayed, I can't relate to them, making it really hard to understand and sympathize with the them. The characters are no longer believable, making the story irrelevant and ridiculous.

On the other hand, out of character dialogue can be thrown in on occasion for comedic affect. I have seen that, and normally end up laughing pretty hard!

Because I am anti-drug & tobacco, I have a hard time reading a book where the main characters use them. I can't relate to them. Since I know my feelings are often not shared by others, I will usually just avoid the subject when writing my own books. It's just something I'm not comfortable with. Of course, maybe I'll write a story where someone is an anti-drug activist! Hmmm - I'll have to look into that. lol.

Great thoughts, Jude!