Holy crap. Three days to write this silly thing. Yeesh. I really need to get better about writing blog updates. Originally I promised myself I wouldn’t update until after my first draft was absolutely, one hundred per-cent, completed and out to beta readers. And then I thought, why? Why wait that long considering this is a blog about writing and this whole slang bit was a major breakthrough to my story that I absolutely, one hundred per-cent, needed and was hoping for? You know that hope, the one you hold in the back of your mind so you don’t go completely mad whilst writing your manuscript?
Yep. That one.
Furthermore, it would be silly for me to wait until my first draft was done because I will be updating it rather soon with a promised book review.
So. Yeah. *That* plan didn’t work out so well, did it?
Silly me. Blogs are for writing in.
So, keeping in mind that this post has been three days in the making, it’s going to be all about slang. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to lord over anyone and preach that slang must be used in a book. If you can use it, please do, if not, then don’t. Slang goes both ways, my friends. Rather, this post is going to be an expository on how awesome it is that slang can make a character.
Because that’s what it did. For me, anyway.
Well, slang from the 1920s, that is. I’m not keen on modern slang, despite using it frequently in conversation, and don’t get me *started* on chatspeak. That’s a whole OTHER blog post. One in which I bemoan the death of the English language and any hope of grammatical correctness for subsequent generations.
In short; there’s a huge difference between some guy ‘failing epically’ and ‘Jeepers Creepers, did you see that?!”
Jeepers Creepers was slang for “Jesus Christ” by the way. Which adds a whole new layer of hilarity to Scooby Doo. If you pay attention, that is, and take it into context of the 1920s. I’m sure when the show aired in 1972, ‘jeepers’ meant just how it sounds in the cartoon show.
Slang is one of those things you don’t think about until you start researching. Serious. Who, other than students with degrees in English or possibly Anthropology, would thing about where ‘bump off’ or ‘let’s take a ride’ came from? And yes, I know *authors* would, smarty pants. But, your average, run of the mill person, wouldn’t. Slang is slang, it doesn’t need to be thought about, just used for full effect. Even if that ‘full effect’ is so PC it’s ridiculously funny. Take this excerpt from Raymond Chandler’s wonderful novel THE BIG SLEEP:
….He wanted to fight.
“Keep quiet or you’ll get the same and more of it. Just lay there and keep quiet!”
“Go screw yourself!”
“You’re gonna cop a plea, brother. And you’re gonna say just what we want you to say and nothing we don’t want you to say.”
“Go screw yourself..”
All right, now, we all know in real life one of us in the same situation would shout at the top of our lungs “Fuck you, asshole!”. But, the book was written at the end of the thirties, and swearing back then wasn’t swearing as we know it today. Yes, ‘fuck’ was around, but not in the way you think it was. Enter slang. Means the same thing, just a different way of saying it.
So, the 1920s.
First things first, I’m a nerd. Probably one of the biggest you will ever meet. I’m damn proud of it, too. I have so much historical nonsense running around in my head it scares me sometimes. What I *don’t* have, however, is a thorough knowledge of the 1920s. One, because American History teachers sort of glossed over the era. As if telling us about Prohibition (worst. idea. ever.) was enough to placate us so they could move on to America’s involvement in WWII.
(Is it bad that I don’t remember any lessons on WWI?)
So, my knowledge of the era was lacking, to say the least. And it showed in my first few drafts when I decided I wanted to place Blood on the Quarter firmly in the 192os.
Oh, what a lot of research. But still something wasn’t right. Sure, I had my British characters down, and a few others I’ve had in my head for quite a long time. But my main female protagonist was not cooperating. The problem fell to inserting too much of myself in her, and thinking about my own reactions to situations.
Yes, character’s reactions are most definitely the author’s but there is a difference. I’m a firm believer that a story/character will tell you when you’re doing it wrong.
And boy, was Melanie Ann-Marie Moore ever telling me I was wrong.
I got angry. I got frustrated. I cried more than any one person probably ought too. Again I thought about scrapping the story and trying again. Instead, I found a wonderful little website with a list of slang terms used throughout the 1920s-30s.
And there shone the light. All pretty and angelic and I’m pretty sure there were some harps playing, maybe a little bit of singing.
So, instead of this:
“What the hell?” Melanie demands, hands on her hips, fury coming off her in waves. “Where do you come off telling me I have to strip for you?”
Hermann grins, running his stogie from one side of his mouth to the other. “That’s what I said. You gonna do it or what?”
I have this:
He shrugs fat shoulders. “That’s what boys want these days. I got a brother up in St. Louis said it made him a few too many rubes than ought to be allowed. I gotta be honest with ya Melly, you’re the best I act I got. I get you to strip for me and we could both be puttin’ on the Ritz, if you know what I mean.”
It takes a minute for Melanie to form a come back-to think clearly. “What the boys want, they ain’t gonna get. Sorry mac, this bank is closed.”
There’s a staring contest. Melanie doesn’t lose.
“Come on, Melanie!” Hermann whines, champing on his ever-present stogie. “I ain’t got no other option, here!”
Her jacket reappears as if by magic. “No, what you ‘ain’t got’ is a good grasp on English grammar and sentence structure.”
“Huh uh. Lookie here, let me put this in terms you’ll understand. Melanie Ann-Marie Moore don’t take off her clothes for nobody. Rich white boy, poor black boy, or even those Creole boys you’re so damned fond of, copacetic?”
Brilliant white light. Bolt of lightning shooting through my system. Whatever metaphor you can think of for a reaction scenario, I had it. Finally, a character of mine, after years of writing her, came to life on the page.
And I have slang to thank for it.
I can cope with that.