Blogiversary marches on! And today we have Alexandra Christian visiting with us and joining the festivities! I put out a call for who wanted to play at ALBTALBS last year, and she’s someone who responded and wanted to guest during the Blogiversary. 😀 So here we go!
Breaking the Rules: Using Idiomatic Language in Fiction
By Alexandra Christian
One of the first rules of writing that I remember really sticking out in my mind is about avoiding common clichés. Saying things like “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “better late than never.” According to every writing professor I’ve ever had, using a cliché is roughly akin to dragging a rusty nail over the brain of your readers. Avoid it like the plague (see what I did there?). But, like most of the rules of writing, once you learn them, you can break them. I’ve found that sometimes an idiomatic expression can be very effective in creating a believable, relatable character.
Consider this. You’re writing a story that features an old man from the rural southern United States. He’s having a conversation with an author who has come to the town to investigate a gruesome murder that took place fifty years previous. Their conversation could go one of two ways:
Lizzie approached the gristled old man who sat fanning himself in the wet summer heat. “Mr. Thompson, I’d like to ask you some questions about the DeGraffenreid murders?” He didn’t look up and for a moment she was afraid he hadn’t heard her. “Do you have time to talk to me?”
Thompson gave an annoyed harrumph and spit tobacco juice at my feet. “I thought it was about that time.”
“Oh, news reporters come around every few years asking questions about old crimes that don’t matter anymore. What did you want to ask me?”
Now, that’s a proper exchange. All the grammar is correct and it plays out just fine. But you can add so much characterization to that one passage just by adding some local color that we’ll be able to hear in the old man’s voice. It can reveal a lot without having to say something explicitly and wasting a lot of words. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the exchange be one stupid southern cliché after another. That would be an assault on the ear that no amount of plotting could make up for. But a well-chosen phrase can go a long way.
Lizzie approached the gristled old man who sat on the porch, fanning himself in the wet summer heat. “Mr. Thompson, I’d like to ask you some questions about the DeGraffenreid murders?” He didn’t look up and for a moment she was afraid he hadn’t heard her. “Do you have a minute?”
Thompson gave an annoyed harrumph and spit tobacco juice at my feet. “I’m afraid you might be barkin’ up the wrong tree, Ma’am.”
“Oh, them high-falutin’ newspaper folk come ‘round here ever so often askin’ about ancient history that don’t amount to a hill o’ beans. So go on. What you got a bee in yer bonnet about?”
Just a little bit of flair can add so much to your scene. It helps the reader connect with the characters and paints a vivid picture without clogging up your page with a lot of endless description. Used sparingly, idiomatic language can be very helpful in creating a unique voice and breathing life into your characters.
Thanks so much to Limecello for having me as one of the very first guests in 2015! It’s her Blogiversary this month and to celebrate, I’m offering a pdf copy of my very southern gothic paranormal romance, Hellsong to a random commentor! So don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the space below along with an email addy!