Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Write Southern - Part 7 - Etiquette and Nuances

This week, you're enjoying a seven-day discussion of How to Write Southern.  

Yesterday was Part 6 - Beats and Internal Monologue. Today tosses around the use of Etiquette and Nuances. Remember. . . this is not an I'm-Southern-and-you're-not post. It's more of how to pay attention to locale, culture and voice to pull off your story's geographic specialty. 

Etiquette and nuances paint the best silent pictures of characters, providing insight into period and place as well. We don't often think of etiquette in contemporary stories, but every period and locale has unique mannerisms. It's just that in today's times, we don't see them as keenly. Which means, your writing skills, and writer's eye, have to work harder to make them work in your story, without being blatantly inserted.

Etiquette and nuances paint the best silent pictures of characters.

And these regional manners. movements, reactions and behaviors add intense color to your stories. Sometimes they can be subtle, and at other times you can exaggerate them a bit, but either way, that culture adds depth. In book two in the Carolina Slade Mystery Series, Slade and Savvy visit a tomato packing shed, seeking clues.

            I straightened the boy’s collar, which fell from my grasp as he drew back. “Doug. The heat is ungodly out there. What would your momma say about making two ladies wait in such stifling conditions?”
            His eyes narrowed. “Okay. Only a few minutes.” He retreated into the much cooler office. We followed, Savvy’s wink gave me a virtual high-five.
            “Thank you,” I said, as he motioned to the chairs. Young men raised even halfway proper in the South caved to older women. 

Or near the end of Lowcountry Bribe, when Slade's mother serves dinner.

Downstairs, Mom served something from paper bags onto her heavy white Spode dishes. Not the china, but not the everyday, eat-leftovers-on plates. Her way of dressing up take out. Of course her stainless and nice glasses adored the table, tea in a monogrammed pitcher.  

But the regional touch doesn't have to be all etiquette. Nuances and regional touches help in easy, simple ways as well. Women being coy on one hand and sarcastic the next. The use of the words, Girl, Babe, Hon, Dude, Sweetheart and so on. Originally, my editor had a problem with the strong male character calling Slade Babe. Where she was raised, that could be derogatory. However, in the South, when a man you admire calls you Babe, it can make you melt . . . a flattering gesture.

Etiquette and nuances speak loudly and show clearly as you add layers to your story and characters.

Men holding open doors for ladies versus those who don't can draw a dividing line between characters, providing a silent description of good or bad. Or a bad guy could be mannerly, contrary to his intentions. 

Use damn, crap, or go for the gold with the F word, but be selective about it. Someone who doesn't curse could let one slip. Someone who normally curses could control himself in front of an elderly woman, out of respect. Or an ass could let it fly in front of a preacher, or even a child, showing, without telling, how deeply disturbed he is.

These are tools that speak loudly and show clearly as you add layers to your story and characters. As you go back over your edits for the tenth time, consider these little insertions, and you'll be amazed at how your characters shine.

Hope you've enjoyed this very abbreviated, seven-day lesson on How to Write Southern. As you've hopefully noticed, the point is more  how to write deeper, using regional ideas and writing tools to add remarkable showing talent to your writing.


Joy said...

I am so enjoying these posts. and I'm learning so much.
Thank you for taking the time to sort through the characteristics and to identify and label how to deal with these things for character building.

Hope Clark said...

Happy to hear it, Joy! They are lessons I've learned, and I see many writers still struggling to find their way, so I thought I'd share.