Friday, May 15, 2015

Enriching Your Writing—Colloquiums






The use of slang, colloquiums, and clichés can add flavor to your writing, so long as those devices aren’t over used. It can also characterize your setting and add to your characters—without getting into a bunch of backstory. The use of slang and colloquial phrases are usually confined to character speech (or inner thoughts) and not to the whole manuscript.



Not every character will speak in the same manner (and wouldn’t it be boring if they did). The big city girl comes to the country for a job or another purpose. She uses proper English in her speech but hearing the way others speak can add conflict in her perception of the people or another character she comes into contact with. She might perceive them as uneducated and this could cause her to make judgments or underestimate the other character(s). That can work both ways, of course.



There are those who don’t agree with using slang, colloquiums, or clichés and that’s fine, but even some of the classic literary giants, if you will recall, used them.



A blue collar worker may have a different vernacular then a college teacher or stockbroker. A street-smart punk isn’t going to speak in perfect English and if the author, critique partner, or editor tries to force that on the character it will make the character flat
and unrealistic. Someone from the Deep South isn’t going to use his or her words or even the same sentence structure as someone from, fill in the blank____ Maine, California, Upper Midwest, Western states, Pennsylvania Dutch country, does.



Those differences can be used to give flavor to our characters and settings.



An author who does this well, in my opinion, is Carolyn Brown. She writes about people from Texas and Oklahoma in small town and ranch country. She gives richness to her stories with the use of colloquial phrases and regional slang. Her writing pops with location, setting, and realistic people. I laugh because it captures that area so well. Even if you’re not from or never visited the area it works. She doesn’t waste time defining the phrases or words she uses but the context in which they’re used is self-explanatory.



If you write Regencies, you automatically use syntax of the era as well as the slang. It gives the feeling of place and time. Military suspense, thrillers, or romance use slang or jargon because the military has its own terminology as does law enforcement. Someone writing sci-fi or paranormal will create his or her own world jargon and slang.



I think it’s perfectly legitimate to use colloquial speech and clichés in your writing to add texture to your story so long as the terms fit and aren’t use merely as a form of laziness.

  • Do you use, colloquiums, and clichés in your writing?
  • How do you decide when and how to use them?

14 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't make up my own slang for my books because I figured there were enough new words with the science fiction setting. I did apply a subtle difference to the different races though.
And yes, if you're writing about the South, there are a lot of unique words they use.

Madilyn Quinn said...

This is cool if it's done well, but I've read a few books where it stuck out too much and was distracting or a few where it actually wasn't historically correct, which drives me crazy!
Typically, I don't. Mostly because it just skips my mind and when I do think about it, I'm worried it might not work out well.

Jo said...

That's one of the things I used to love about Georgette Heyer's Regency romances. The language was perfect for the time as well as the mannerisms. Today's Regency romances don't have the right flavour and heroines do things the young ladies of the time would have died rather than allow.

Kat Sheridan said...

I love to see them when they're well done, especially if they give me new words for my vocabulary. I'm always delighted to read Anna Campbell, who's Austrailian. I picked up the word "fossicking" from her (sort of like "rummaging"). In my historicals, I do try to stay somewhat true to language, and watch for anachronisms like "OK".

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

shelly said...

I definitely do. Fine tuning a character's voice is one of my most favorite things to do.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Writing historically, I have to be careful that idioms and slang expressions are accurate for the time period. Often I am surprised by how modern some "old-fashioned-sounding" idioms really are. I had to remove the phrase "hold a torch for" (meaning have a crush on) from my book set in 1867. I thought it was old enough. Torches are OLD, right? But turns out the phrase can be traced back to a Broadway play of the 1920s.

I replaced it with "set her cap for" -- in case you're wondering. :)

cleemckenzie said...

Any slang or colloquiums etc. are a challenge for me. Most of the time I like to make up my own, so it suits the character, but isn't necessarily used in real life.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia - I try and adjust my posts to eliminate any misunderstandings re the English English and other country's English ... not always easy ...

Cheers Hilary