[identity profile] chesamus.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ds_workshop
How can you write a convincing narrative voice from RayK's POV, and balance his canonical plain talk with the needs of your story?

NOTE: Most Due South quotes are from Katy’s no-frills link page to various due South Transcripts. (http://www.trinityslash.com/trans/)

Parts of this were adapted from a response to a previous post which is what led me to address this particular topic. I'd say 90% of the 50+ stories I've written are first person RayK, so I thought this was a pretty good fit for me.


Flashback - bear with me because it is relevant...

Long time ago when the earth was green, fans started writing their own adventures about their favorite fictional characters. About thirty seconds after that, they started mimeographing them to share with other fans, and then passing out xerox copies at conventions. Once the internet came into being, fan fiction (and porn) drove it through ftp sites, gopher, and then the web. Following along with the writers were critics questioning why they wrote, and how they wrote.

Well, the why was obvious - fans fell in love with the characters and wanted more. More of a character they felt was neglected, more of a story line that ended too soon, more of a relationship that they saw, but one at which the creators only hinted.

I thought the “how” part of the question was also obvious after I read my first fan fiction in the early 1970’s. A fellow Trekkie handed over a story he had written about a young man saving the USS Enterprise from certain destruction. Yes - my first fan fiction was a Mary Sue story that actually featured a fanboy. The story was terrible, of course - none of the characters were true to form. Spock, in particular, sounded like a cross between Robby the Robot and the Oxford English Dictionary.

I knew there was good fiction out there - several Star Trek books devoted chapters to it. They also discussed the bad fiction and what made it that way, and the common theme was bad characterization. Fans knew these shows backwards and forwards. They had the dialog memorized, they knew the combination to Kirk’s safe, that Sulu was right-handed and that Uhura’s first language was Swahili. They knew every catch-phrase, and yet, when it came to write these characters they didn’t get them right. Why?

Because they over-emphasized the traits which made the characters unique. Spock became a super-computer, Kirk became a combination of Admiral Nelson, Patton and Casanova, McCoy whipped up a cure in the 15 minutes it took Scotty to rebuild a warp drive, and Chekov became something out of Gilbert and Sullivan with a Russian accent.

I wondered why this mistake was made over and over again, and the only conclusion I could reach was that stereotyping on steroids was the easiest way to write. It let the reader know that the author knew these characters, too. Mulder broods - have him weeping in the corner. Skinner is in charge - great dom has to be the way then. Jim represses everything - aha! those memories will come out, lead to an emotional breakdown and turn him into a marshmallow. Poor Blair, dragged all over by his flighty mother - had to be abused somewhere along the way, and let us not forget that he’s had more sex than everyone in the station combined (or he’s been obfuscating from day one and is a virgin).

And that finally brings me to Stanley Raymond Kowalski. Dancer. Bit of an astygmatism. Still a trifle obsessed with his ex. Casual dresser. Gets his mouth caught on a word or two. Full of weird euphemisms and pithy phrases. Secretly passionate about his job. Ray Kowalski is pecular, no question about it. From his experimental hair to his bracelet, RayK is as different from Ray Vecchio as night is to day.

A Chicago cop played by a British-born, Canadian-raised actor with a background in radio attempting to duplicate a regional accent consistently (love him to pieces, but...).

So - how does an author capture the essense of Ray? How do you balance his cadence with dialect? Generally speaking, you can’t.

Do not get bogged down in the "des guys over dere" and "dos idiots" etc. Yes, Ray does have a bit of regional uniqueness to his dialog, but it's more Chicago by way of Brooklyn as spoken by a Canadian. I tried to write in it once, but then started micro-managing the dialog until it sounded like a bad Sopranos episode. I finally decided that if the words were chosen correctly, the reader would hear the accent without needing to read it.

Dropping in the occasion 'cuz' or 'ya think' isn't going to pose a problem, but I find reading an entire story with what I've heard one person call "authentic voice" pretty frustrating.

Consider Dr. McCoy’s southern accent. You wouldn’t write every he says in a drawl. You simply use an occasional y’all and remember that the reader is likely hearing his dialog in DeForest Kelly’s voice anyway. If you took the time to spell out every southern word, you are forcing the reader to translate as they read instead of trusting them to hear the voice in their head.

If I write the sentence:

“I’ll get the car...”

I could tell you it was spoken by Ray Kowalski, or Benton Fraser, or Richard Burton (the actor not the explorer), and your brain would supply the correct accent.

So - if not by dialect, how do you capture Ray? Listen to his dialog in any episode.

Ray snaps off short sentences, short phrases:

Yes you are! That's that thing again. You're correcting. You're niggling. You're doing that thing with the T's and the I's, and I say 'A' and you say 'B'. I say 'night' and you say 'day'. (Mounty on the Bounty)

You see? We're like a one-two punch. A duet. You set 'em up, I knock 'em down. You set 'em up, I knock 'em down. (Burning Down The House)

He uses a repetitive style to get his point across:

Look, I don't want to hear it! I don't want to hear it! I don't understand, I don't want to hear it! (Mounty on the Bounty)

I'm off the case? Why, what, why, what, why? (Dead Guy Running)

He's trying to psych me. Franco Devlin is trying to psych me. (Mountie and Soul)

His mouth can’t keep up with his brain and visa versa:

Ray is not stupid. Ray mentions that he went to college and knows enough Milton to try and catch Fraser’s bluff. His malapropisms and spoonerisms do not occur as frequently as we think. You can't rely too much on "butter my muffin" etc. - if you watch the show and actually count the times Ray says it, it's probably under two. Those well-known phrases are quotable and in perfect voice, so everyone uses them, but it's similar with the "Judy, Judy, Judy" line mimics use for Cary Grant. He never said it, but it's so much in his voice, that everyone in the audience recognizes it.

Possible Solutions
Listen to your dialog - read it out loud. I probably write more 'dialog only' stories than most. I generally hear a plot bunny coming long before I see one. The trick that works for me is reading it out loud - it's pretty clear to me when Ray is off key.

Change the POV of the story or the line. For example, write it as Ray, then write it as Fraser. Or say the line as Ray, then see if you could ever hear Welsh saying it. The generic stuff isn't an issue, but if you're trying to develop a "Rayism" and you can hear Huey saying it with no problem, then it probaby doesn't belong to Ray.

An example (forgive me for using my own):

Yeah, well, nice don’t pay the pizza, buddy.

Can you hear anyone else say that line?

It isn't easy developing that ear. You may have strengths in other areas and can tap into the willing and wonderful betas out there. Their constructive criticism can help you "hear" your story.

So one more example, then I’ll let you go...

“Dis is da ting der, Fraser, we gotta take care o’ dis or Welsh’ll kill me, you, and da wolf. We gots ta take care o’ dis right now. Stamp it, file it, stick it in a box marked done.”


“This is the thing, Ok? The thing is, we gotta take care of this or Welsh will fry us in butter and serve us up with tartar sauce.”

Which one would you rather read?
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