Just what are non-words?
I’m sure you’ve seen them, mostly used in dialogue. If you’re like me, you’ll even recognize a few that slip out of your mouth when you’re talking. We’re so interested in not sounding the fool by not having an immediate response that we have a stable of words we use to cover that awkward silence sure to happen while we search for the right thing to say.
Oh yes, all of us are guilty of not letting the silence hang. We can feel those intense gazes on us as we attempt to come up with a witty response to a question or correct someone’s statement, if only we can find the right word.
What we’ll do to keep from looking foolish is toss out a non-word to keep the momentum going. Words such as well, so, and now fall into this category. Unfortunately, not only are these words used in face to face encounters, but they are creeping into books.
It’s not unusual to have every character start a sentence with “So…” “Now…” or “Well…” I often ask myself while editing out this issue if the author realizes their own speech patterns have taken over, so every character sounds like the same person.
What? Yeah, this is probably your response at this point.
All I have to say is that you heard me. Rather, I did write that correctly.
Individuals have begun to insert their own speech patterns into the dialogue of all of their characters. Lately, it’s not unusual to have an entire conversation where the multitude of characters all stat their sentences with the same word and get on with “telling” the reader how things are going.
What has happened at this point is that you’ve lost the sense of each character’s personality and you’re telling. Not really a great thing.
How do you avoid this?
Some authors have been blessed (I swear it’s more of a curse) with the ability to hear their characters conversing in their head. We can sense the differences in their speech patterns and know how to word their sentences. That’s more than likely because those characters are a rough bunch, never giving the poor author an even break.
If you don’t have this blessing (it really is a curse), you need to rely on your stellar editing skills to clean up those areas where you’ve faltered, or hope your beta readers locate all the problems and mention them to you.
Identifying and correcting the problem is the first milestone you’ll hurtle over. Your next one is to keep those characters from hitting you with that “curse” where they’re in your head, directing everything.