The Awkwardness of Language

I think this is something that every writer has to come up against at some point or another…mainly, how perfect are your characters’ conversations?  Cause let’s face it…humans are awkward.  There are many levels of awkwardness to people, and language itself (for sure including the English language) is awkward, too.

So where does that leave us?  Saying stupid things.  A lot.

coffeehyperbole.com

These aren’t ground shattering things…just normal, everyday awkwardness.  For example (I do this all the time):  I just had a coconut for lunch.  Why?  I dunno…but for the sake of this example, I did.  So, I know my cousin’s aunt’s best friend LOVES hearing about people eating coconuts, and I’m totally stoked about telling her I had one!  So in my mind, the conversation goes a little like this:

Me: Guess what I just had for lunch?
Cousin’s aunt’s best friend: What?
Me: A Coconut!

And then, when I speak, it really goes something like this…

Me: Guess what I just had for coconut?  I mean lunch?
Cousin’s aunt’s best friend: …a coconut?
Me: Damn it!

There’s this thing that happens in books/cinema in which characters communicate WAY too smoothly.  And sometimes, it works.  A swooning romance or intense thriller wouldn’t be so exciting with awkward language.  Can you picture it?

Masked killer: I’m going to stab this girl if you don’t get me the money, and slip it under the…the…you know, the thing…the…geez, my brain’s gone blank…

Cop: The door?

Masked killer: Yeah, the door!  Slip it under the door, or the girl gets it!

Just doesn’t click.  But I do think there’s a time and a place for awkwardness.  I indeed think that is partly why a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so successful (among many traits).  All the characters were awkward from time to time…including Buffy herself.  And it was great…why?  Because it was true, and it brought the characters closer to home.
 

Buffy being awkward in Season 4’s “Hush”

And so, it leaves the consideration for the writer…to be awkward, or not to be awkward?  I think it depends largely on the type of story/writing/characters one is writing, and I think it is probably safer to lean more towards flowing, perfect language than it is to write totally realistic ridiculousness.  After all, many people use reading as a way to escape.  If you can’t make it through a day without scrambling at least a few of your words (not to mention any physical, mental, emotional, and social awkwardnesses you might exhibit), then it’s not likely going to be that much fun to read about others going through the same thing.

Still, I think it is important to consider awkwardness (of all varieties) when building a story.  And I definitely think that sometimes, a little awkwardness is okay.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Great post! Getting dialogue to sound authentic is tough. Well done, you hit some good points.

    Cheers!

    PS I love Alan Rickman, too!

  2. Mere Joyce says:
    Yay for Alan Rickman fans!

    Yes, dialogue is a very tricky thing to write. It's a balance of getting it realistic, without it being *too* realistic, which I think can be a very small window

  3. Alythia says:
    "Me: Guess what I just had for coconut? I mean lunch?
    Cousin’s aunt’s best friend: …a coconut?
    Me: Damn it!"

    Hahaha! This is so me!

  4. Mere Joyce says:
    Alythia, I do it ALL.THE.TIME. I can't tell say anything exciting without revealing the punch line half way through!

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