Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Language and Communication part 2

In my last post I introduced the concept of language shorthand’s within a culture or between a few people. These shorthand’s can and do develop in families.
In my own family, we’ve developed this type of shorthand. You can easily get my kids laughing by saying “three sneezes”, “cheat, cheat”, “now which one are you” or “nobody has shoes on”.
Come to my house sometime and listen to us discuss a dinner menu or shopping list and try to figure out what “death, poison and pain” are. Death we make efforts to at least limit in our house and keep it away from my youngest daughter. Pain we don’t limit, but do keep away from my two daughters (the two living at home). Poison is not only encouraged, but my youngest son will complain about me making him eat it every day (he’s the one who started calling them poison). I’ll gripe that the list of death and pain is growing.
In one of my stories I have an MC convey a whole story to his brother by saying the name of one of their deceased relatives. It quickly got his point across to his brother, then he had to explain himself to everyone else in the room. But the fact is, as family members, they could express a full story with just a name is believable. The scene wouldn’t have been believable if the MC had to tell the whole story to his brother, who already knew it.
At another point in that same story the mother of one of my characters told her, “Don’t pull an Andrea.”
This was referring to the young woman’s sister, but she got the point. Her sister was known for dawdling.
Do we as writers create believable family dynamics with family members who have a shorthand? Do they say things that sound off the wall but make perfect sense to the family members, while being confusing to anybody else? Can your characters convey stories to each other with just a word or two, or a name?
This dynamic doesn’t have to apply to just families, but can also fit people who’ve been around each other a lot, or grown up together.
In the story I mentioned above, I have a scene where the introduction of a simple food item has two characters, who grew up together laughing. Their community’s shared shorthand. A familiar story they both knew that was funny to them. The people in the room with them had to be told what was funny.
Read through your stories and find out where you can use this shorthand.
In the first scene I mentioned, had the MC told his brother what the problem was by telling the story of their deceased relative, the scene would have been completely different, and they would have trooped out of the room faster than I needed them too. However, normal family dynamics got him to relay the story twice, once quickly to his brother, then a second time, in longer format, to everyone else.
In the second scene I mentioned, I can remember the long sentence I had were the mother was telling her not to dawdle, then it occurred to me, the line about not pulling an Andrea was shorter, got the point across, and was consistent with normal family dynamics.
Read through your stories and see if the dynamic is there. Do they have that shorthand? If not can you create one for them.
Smile. Make the day a brighter day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Growing up, I often told people I know who my doppelganger is. It didn’t seem farfetched to me, since, I am an identical twin, but then a recent event got me rethinking that stance, and even thinking about a few things that have happened in the past.

The recent event was I was shopping with my sister-in-law and a woman I did not know started talking to me as if she knew me. 

Needless to say it threw me for a quite a loop because the last time that happened to me was somewhere between 1997 and 1999 when Konnie and I were living in the same city only a few blocks from each other. Now of course, we live in different states.

I actually considered maybe the woman I saw was nuts, until the last couple of days when I recalled a few more instances. The first two happened while I was at college in Rexburg Idaho and Konnie was at home in Tacoma Washington.

The first incident was that one day, as a friend and I arrived at a meeting for a campus club, one of our fellow club members asked me if I’d been in the downtown area that afternoon. I had, so I responded that I’d been shopping. She then glared at me and told me I nearly ran her over in the crosswalk!

I told her she had to be mistaken, since I didn’t even own a car, let alone have a current driver’s license at the time. She still insisted she was positive I was behind the wheel of the car that nearly ran her down.

One week later, my friend and I left to get to that same club meeting earlier than usual. Since, by then I was hobbling around crutches we wanted to give me plenty of time. Anyway, when my accuser from the week before entered the room, she, and the friends she was with, did a double take, completely dumbfounded, because they were positive they’d just seen me walking AWAY from the building our meeting was in sans crutches or cast. To which my friend turned to me and said, “You mean there’s three of you?”

Something I had clearly forgotten when that woman approached me last week. But I’d also forgotten one other event.

This one happened not long after my husband died, and even just a few days after Konnie had returned home from attending his funeral.

I’d gone to the store to pick up some sandwich fixing. It was the first time in years, I’d even done the shopping, and I hadn’t done it without my husband with me in so long that at one point I stopped to look for him.

That’s when I spotted her. For one split second, I thought I saw someone familiar, then I realized the size, shape, and hair color was right, but it couldn’t possibly be Konnie!

I never approached the woman, never talked to her, but I now I know, she must live in town somewhere.

And all that got me thinking about how it feels to discover you do have a doppelganger and wondering if writers ever use that issue in their stories.

I for one have a couple of doppelgangers in my WIP, but that fact is backstory. I don’t have the actual event when they discovered this issue in the story.

Have any of you ever written such a scene? Have you tried? Do you know of any such stories?

I think I’d like to try some time to write a scene where my main character is mistaken for his or her doppelganger, and I think I’m going to have it that they are not twins separated at birth, and are not related at all. But then again maybe not, since them not knowing they could even have a twin, or such a relative would make for a more intriguing story. Don’t you think?

Happy writing everyone!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Language and Communication

If you are at all a Trekkie, like I am, you will be familiar with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard and his crew came in contact with aliens whose language they didn’t understand and couldn’t processes through their translators. But ever diplomatic Picard made valiant efforts to try to communicate with them. They were able to determine the aliens were simply saying the names of people and places the humans wouldn’t know. Eventually they learned these aliens communicated by saying just the key figures of an event or story from their past. It would be like us communicating by saying, “The princess and the pea at Snow White’s cottage,” to say we experienced a lumpy mattress, and a resulting poor night’s sleep, while spending the night at a friend’s house.
Humans can and do develop a sort of shorthand speech. We are familiar enough with the stories and fables of our past that I don’t have to explain what I mean by the Princess and the pea or Snow White. Using the names and places is enough for you to know the story.
I’m sitting here thinking about this type of shorthand and wondering if I’ve ever even used it in my stories.
As human beings we all have it. A shared memory with someone and all either of you have to do is say a word or a phrase and you are either howling in laughter or somber or whatever the mood required.
For that matter do we ever transplant a person into a new place, a new culture, a new society then have some confusion ensue simply because words and phrases don’t translate well.
I’m reminded of one time, while I was in Tennessee, and I mentioned to a gentleman that the young lady I was with and I need to go to the store.
He offered to “carry” us there.
I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would carry us that far or how he expected to carry two women. Besides we had a car.
It took several minutes to figure it out but the man meant he could “drive” us to the store.
I could also come up with examples of the differences between British English and American English. Anyone remember the Candid Camera episode (old version) were a young British woman was asking everyone she could for help finding a pharmacy, though she used a different word for it, which I don’t remember, so she could get a “plaster”. Of course, none of the American’s knew she was asking for a Band-Aid.
I’m also reminded of a movie about an airplane disaster and two young black men were unable to communicate with the stewardess or any of the other passengers and they needed help for some reason, though I could not decipher what it was.
Then, of all people, the character played by Barbara Billingsly (Leave It to Beaver’s Mom) was able to understand them, carry on a conversation and tell the stewardess they needed some aspirin.
Like Picard and the aliens he couldn’t understand, have we ever put a character into a confusing situation simply because they didn’t understand what those around them were talking about? Or the above mentioned airplane disaster where two men couldn’t communicate with those around them because their language didn’t make sense to anyone else?
Language is words. It plays a major role in our writing. Think about how we use our words differently and how that can affect understanding and clear communication while you’re writing your stories.
Smile. Make the day a brighter day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Names part 2

On reading, what Konnie wrote last week, I got to thinking some myself about characters and the names we give them. I have given some of my characters some unusual names, but generally not uniquely spelled unless I had a source outside of Spell Check for it.

Yeah, that’s right. Unless my source come from somewhere outside of Spell Check, I spell it the way my computer says it should be spelled. And I’ve yet to use the names of Bryon  (or even Brian), Konnie (or Connie), and Bonnie.

That’s not to say I haven’t used some of our siblings names. I have. Two, in fact. The youngest two. I haven’t even used our oldest sisters name, but that’s because I’m positive I couldn’t spell that moniker in full without using a newspaper headline any more than our mother could the day our sister was born.

Way back in high school, I had one teacher try to tell me I was dropping an ‘e’ on my middle name. I looked him right in the eye and said, “Would you like to see my birth certificate?”

He conceded.

Around the same time as that incident, I got into a conversation with another girl at school and well, I can’t remember why it came up, but I mentioned my middle name was spelled unusual. She asked what it was, I told her, and she said, “Oh, so it’s spelled L-E-I-G-H instead of L-E-E.”

I replied, “Neither.”

Whereupon she said, she’d have guessed “Li” except there is clearly no Asian ancestry in me.

“Yeah, well, that’s not right either.”

And another teacher complained about my own atrocious spelling. (Thank God for Spell Check!) And I smiled at him and pointed out how my middle name is spelled, how Konnie’s first and middle is spelled, and how the oldest of our brother’s first name is spelled, then I informed him that our big sister’s name was spelled correctly because our mother got it from the paper’s headlines that day. Then I told him, “I think it’s in my genes!”

But Konnie does have a point, not all of us feel the same way about our names, but have we ever considered how our characters feel about their names?

What’s the story behind your main character’s name? Does it have some effect on the character?

I do have one character where there is a rather detailed story behind her name, and it goes back to her very existence. It does have a bearing on the story, and on her. Have you ever had a character like that?

Or have you ever had a character who was sensitive in some way about their name? Or maybe hated their name? Sometimes kids don’t like the names their parents saddled them with. How does that make the character feel? How do they react to it?

Or how about a story with a sort “A Boy Named Sue” scenario? How does the fellow feel about that? And what does he do?

Then too, the reverse can occur. Does the fact that your female character has a masculine sounding name effect who they are? Or do they take it in stride?

Names do mean something in real life, they should mean something for characters, and affect them the same way.

Happy Writing everyone!