'Sissix inhaled and exhaled with vigor, as if purging the Wayfarer's recycled air from her lungs. She looked down at her body. "Oh, **hell** no." She untied the drawstring of her pants, stepped out of them, and threw them back on the shuttle. Her vest followed suit. Naked, she began walking toward her childhood home, her scales glinting in the sun.' - from 'The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet' by Becky Chambers (2014, p. 322)
For anyone wondering why I quoted Chambers there it's because - whatever other merits her novel has, and it does have them - I found myself getting annoyed at that "Oh, **hell** no." (in the original text, 'hell' is in italics, which I cannot render here so have used asterisks). The reason for this is that - to me at least - it suddenly seemed to be putting the words of a 21st century urban African American woman into the mouth of Sissix, a humanoid reptilian life form. And while that may just have been my interpretation, I'm pretty sure not - I think that is what was intended.
So the question for this week is - voices of characters and when these are used well and when badly. Because SFF has to deal with this all the time - some of the worst amateur Fantasy fiction I've come across has voiced its characters with lots of inappropriate pseudo-Elizabethanisms such as "I grant thee thy boon oh thou mighty warrior of Analgard." and so on. Equally though, it can be confusing when a Fantasy story has a character speak in a too modern and urban idiom because it can confuse the reader as to whether this is a satire or not or what kind of world the characters are supposed to be in - you know, like when a mighty barbarian warlord is voiced like a high school football team jock e.g. "Guys! Listen, why don't we just hang out and chill before we storm the castle?" and so on.
Equally of course, Science Fiction has a similar problem when trying to invent new languages or new kinds of slang. Not everyone can manage to pull off a Clockwork Orange style argot so well. So - what do you think? Is this something you think about when you write dialogue for your stories? How do you resolve the problem? Have you ever seen it done really badly? When / why? Be sure to share your thoughts below.
I'd wholeheartedly agree with the wrong voice spoiling a story. I can't point at any off-hand, as I tend to give up on such stories early on, unless it's for comedic effect and fits the narrative. I appreciate that it's difficult to create a truly alien voice - you need to craft a mindset from which the voice speaks - I've been working on a short story for ages and that's been my stumbling block. I also dislike the shorthand of just supplanting recognisable native cultures into alien landscapes - I've encountered a few Native American tribes and more than one version of the Inca/Maya/Aztec step pyramid covered in pictographs and alien foliage!
Hey, one of my favorite SFF characters was Darth Vader. He sure was a character. James Earl Jones did the voice.
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