03 March 2015

Writing Thoughts

Sometimes I wonder if everything I notice turns to writing thoughts. As an example, one of the local bus companies has a number of cartoon adverts on the back of their buses trying to persuade people to use public transport.

Most of these ads have a myth at the top and use a male and female couple in different conversations. As I wait for my bus a few of these adverts have caught my attention from a writing perspective. Here’s one of them:

Myth: Posh people don’t travel on public transport.

Male: People with names like mine don’t travel on the bus.’

Female: Oh poor you, Rupert.’

I don't know any men called Rupert, so I can't ask them if they've ever travelled by bus, but we do often make assumptions about people without knowing them well. In this post I wrote about selecting names for characters and the associations names may have for us.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a group of people about some aspects of writing, and I was asked whether I tried to select unusual names. The answer isn't straightforward. Sometimes a character arrives with exactly the right name, and on other occasions it can take a long time to come up with the perfect name for them. A few characters have been particularly troublesome and have ended up having their name changed several times - thank goodness for Find and Replace.

The protagonist of my current novel is Anna King, and in one scene she recalls it was easy to learn how to write her name at school as she only had five letters to master, half the number of her best friend, Corinne Jamieson.

Here is another of those bus adverts.

Male: How can we make the people on the North Shore realise it’s hip to travel on the bus.

Female: Don’t use the word hip for one thing.

Just as names give us an image of a person, so the words or phrases they use can have the same effect and help to deepen the reader’s image. For example, the character of Evelyn in Still Death is an older lady, and when I read my first draft, I realised I'd given her a speech tick where she called most people ‘dear’. I hope I used it enough to orient the reader it was her, but not enough to irritate.

Fitz (a minor character in Lives Interrupted) is Irish, and one of the speech ticks I’d noticed while in Ireland was the use of the word ‘yous’ when talking about either an individual or a group. Again I tried to use it judiciously so it wasn’t on every line, but used at least once in a scene where he was involved.

There’s nothing quite like listening to real conversation and picking up on people’s favourite words and phrases, especially when they're given an individual twist.

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