I’ve never believed that there is a formula for anything in life, people will always prove you and your expectations wrong. When someone talks to me about someone and throws out phrases such as, ‘They are the only person capable of doing that.’, ‘There is no way someone’s capable of doing that.’ or, ‘They’ll never lose.’ I don’t really take notice as I’m convinced most people can do most things if they really want to. Anyway, you get this a fair bit when you talk about writing, someone will say, ‘I wish I could write a book’ or similar and I always feel like trying to convince them that they could at least try, don’t believe you can’t do something until you attempt it. What has been interesting to me is that people’s expectations of me in relation to my personality has changed a bit and I’ve had some surprising comments. One of them I thought I’d talk about here, talking.
I go through regular swings in the amount I talk. I can go for weeks being quiet and timid, perhaps seemingly uninterested in conversation or interaction, and then I can become a pain-in-the-backside-chatterbox. I’ve annoyed plenty of people by leaving five-minute voicemails and I’ve also sometimes had absolutely nothing to contribute. Maybe it can be a sign of my mood, how I am feeling about things, for sure that must be the case sometimes, but it has also been a lifelong trait, I can be the life of the party one weekend and retreat into my shell the next. It is probably very common with people but I’m bringing it up here as one of the hardest skills to be good at in writing (my opinion here) is to create believable dialogue and the question I’m asking is, do you need to be a good talker to be a good writer?
Nothing is stand alone, which is why I started this piece by saying one off questions that are zero-sum games aren’t realistic, I believe that you also have to be a good listener, have a good imagination, have self-belief, etc. etc. etc. But for the sake of this piece let’s just concentrate on how you speak. I wouldn’t say I have a great vocabulary but then again I do take a bit of time to look up words and if I find one that looks interesting I’ll try and make a mental note of it, generally I forget them and hate myself when it comes up again somewhere and I say, ‘Argh, I know this, wait, wait, it’ll come in sec, no wait, I know it…nope it’s gone.’ But again, that’s pretty common I think. What about being witty? Do you come up with great one-liners when chatting with friends and yet when it comes to putting things down in text it all looks triple layered cheesy nonsense? There’s the challenge, putting yourself into your characters and allowing your characters to put themselves into you without it feeling formulaic, contrived and hackneyed; it sounds rubbish doesn’t it, like when some over the top luvvie actor talks about ‘becoming the character’, or even worse, in an interview they’ll say about someone one of my above mentioned hates, ‘There is no one else in the world that could have played her darling.’ Oh come on. Yes there is. It would have been different and yes, it could have been worse, but maybe it would have been better too? Same with writing, I have an idea, but someone else who has that same idea may take it in a thousand different directions to me. My memory is pretty good, which is a reason I think I find it comfortable to try and put myself in theoretical positions, ‘If I reacted to something in this way, then how would this character react to those same inputs?’ If I ask myself that, and believe my answers then I have faith that if I put that in the mouths of my characters then I’m happy, someone else may disagree and would have done it differently but that’s fine. So memory for me is important, if you can remember those conversations that made you laugh, or cry, if you can recall how the anger or the fury in a person’s voice sounded, if you can recreate the physical appearance of someone talking even if your going back years and still be able to portray it, then that’s great, and you don’t have to be a talker to write convincingly.
So back to being witty, I don’t believe you have to be witty in real life to create a character that is witty, you just have to remember those people that are and be able to translate their voice, mannerisms and anything else they have in common and find what works for your character, some of it may work and some of it may not. What about those people you meet who seem to be able to chat about anything, I mean anything, they can keep going over nothing for hours, when you are sweating with frustrated tiredness and are demonstrating as much obvious disinterest as you can, on they go, relentless…we all know them, just because you aren’t like that doesn’t mean you can’t create someone like that, if you have knowledge of something then just put it down on paper and believe in it. We know what it is to argue, banter, jibe, debate, moan, be silent, curse and all the rest of it. You don’t need to feel intimidated by those who have a strong command of language and have a great calmness about them so as not to go in a rage when in an argument, how many times have you got the killer comeback only for it to be lost in a sea of spittle and waving arms and hands? Or the most common, an hour after the argument the best one liner pops into your head with only the toilet roll to tell it to? That’s the beauty of writing, that hour later is okay, your characters aren’t going anywhere, your story isn’t going anywhere, sure you may be under pressure to finish it and there is always a point where you have to say that’s enough, you can’t forever change or add or edit but until that point, work it through until you believe in them.
Let’s face it, how much of our real life conversation is without deceit of some kind, how often are you fully honest and open, how often do you slightly twist what you really mean because you don’t want to upset the person you are talking to, or annoy them, or create a scene, it’s easier just to say something to avoid a situation? What’s the point of being a good talker then if you are only lying? Well, transfer that to your characters, how much fun is that! You can play with them as much as you want, you can make them say the things you wish you said, you don’t need to be a good talker for that, or inverse it, you can make them a terrible talker and the whole point is the empathy we have for this character that finds it hard to communicate, again you don’t need to be a good talker for that. Whether we talk a lot or talk a little, whether we talk meaningfully or just to fill the void, whether we pepper our conversation with seven syllable words or only repeat, ‘y’kno wat I mean.’, whether we talk honestly or just to please. It doesn’t matter, you can produce what your mind wants and that’s where we become interesting, that’s where we create worlds. People who aren’t stand up comedians can produce hilarious texts, people who can’t express emotion face to face can write beautiful letters, there is no secret to any of it, no rules.
If someone asked me if I am a good talker, I would say ‘sometimes’. I think that goes for pretty much any question I am asked. Sometimes is all you need and hopefully those moments when it works will be what you are looking for.
P.S – Come on Great Britain! Enjoy the Olympics everyone!
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