Pick the words to suit the mood

While we are encouraged to ‘show, don’t tell’ and build pace and mood into our dialogue, sometimes there is just insufficient action and dialogue to satisfy the requirements.

The narrator is then called upon to fulfil the obligation of creating an environment for the characters and building those characters by the way in which he selects the vocabulary and pace. We affect pace by long and short words, by long and short sentences or phrases, that is blatantly obvious, but we can make those words and sentences do more work, when it is appropriate, by adopting the language of our characters, the words we imagine they would use and the manner in which they would use them.

For example, if we wanted a working class girl to be using her lipstick, we may well use the word lippy, where for someone of a supposedly higher status we may use lip rouge. One girl might slap it on, the other might apply it. Silly, subtle changes, but the reader should be imagining two different characters. The working class lad may have ‘wheels’, the upper class may have a Lambo, Beamer or Benz. One guy will go for a ride or a trip while the other may elect for an outing or a spin.

You cannot just adopt a few words to succeed, you must also embrace the voice. Imagine these people talking and embrace the whole vocabulary and their form of expression. While we may not have any experience of these people, we have plenty of references from television that we can draw on. We do not have to be 100% accurate in our use of the language. Impressionists will take the essence of a person’s voice and language, using that to conjure the picture of the subject in our mind. The reader’s imagination will do a lot of the work for you with the correct stimulus.

In the sample ‘Thud‘, there is precious little description of the two protagonists, but it is almost guaranteed that you have a very vivid idea of what they look like, how they present themselves and move. It would be an interesting exercise to write the same story with the two subjects as teenagers.

How do we get the right vocabulary to go with the scene if we are not familiar with it? One way is to write it as you hear it and then use a thesaurus to try and create the atmosphere you want. An alternative, if you are trying to write extensively in one period of time, is to read books around that period or are set in that time frame. Whatever way you choose, read it aloud and you will hear if it works.