White Characters Speaking AAVE
I’m writing a white character who speaks in African-American Vernacular English. She has some good qualities and some bad, but I want to make it clear that she’s not a likable person, and I don’t condone that kind of appropriation. How do I write a character like this without people thinking that I think AAVE is funny/okay for non-Black people to use? Or should I just write her as the kinda crappy person she is?
I've been having a hard time with my writing lately. I'll start something and abandon it because it doesn't feel authentic. I can't find a voice or theme that feels like it's really coming from me. Any thoughts on how I can overcome this?
Well there are two questions here—first there’s one about abandoning your stories. There are a couple of topics about finishing stories on the Advice Tags page, so check those out.
In terms of finding your voice, my first suggestion would be: Don’t over think it. If you’re stumbling through your writing thinking “Would this character say this? Should I put this word here?” it’s going to feel awkward and stunted. To write in a voice that isn’t your own, I think you really have to “get into character” by doing a lot of research and practice beforehand. But hold off on that for now and try a couple of these things:
First, I’d do some stream of consciousness writing. A website that really helps me with this when I’m REALLY writers-blocked and absolutely have to write something for a deadline is 750words.com. Because you have to get to 750 words to be done, you can’t abandon it, and it has all these cool little benchmark goal features that are also encouraging. I usually go on there and either just write about my day, what’s on my mind, or something like, “I want to write this story about a girl who’s walking through the forest and suddenly she sees a bear, but I can’t decide whether the bear is going to chase her in the first scene or in a later scene, because…”. That really helps me get the words flowing, and then I can talk myself through the problems that I’m having with getting a story out.
I’d also suggest writing some stories in the first person—the length doesn’t matter—about a character pretty similar to who you are as a person. That way, you’ll be forced to write in your own unique voice, because you’ll basically be writing about you!
I think both of the above steps should help get your unique-voice gears turning so that you can move forward. If those don’t work or you need more advice or I misinterpreted what you were trying to ask me (haha, highly possible), you know where to find me!
And as always, anyone with anything to add can send an ask.
I'm thinking about entering a competition for short stories, and I'll probably use the POV of a child (9-11 years old). So I was wondering if you, or someone else, have some tips on writing from the POV of a child, whitout it being a story for children. I still want it to be for older readers, and the subject is kind of a serious and sad one. I'm thinking about the way Harper Lee wrote the "To Kill a Mockingbird", but I still need some advice. Thanks!
I always have a hard time with this too! Cause I love writing from the point of view of teenagers (it’s the easiest age for me to write, being only a little older myself), but I don’t want everything I write to sound YA.
But you’re on the right track—I’d suggest reading more stories like To Kill a Mockingbird and studying what it is about that story that works. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is another book that comes to mind that’s narrated by a kid, but isn’t a kid’s book.
Another thing to consider, and that we talked about a lot in my fiction writing class last fall, was when your narrator is writing this down. Your narrator could be a 40 year old man writing about the period of time when he was 9, 10, and 11, without mentioning anything that happened in his adult life. Think the narrator on The Wonder Years. You just obviously have to use past tense. That way, you can use “big” language concerning events that happened to a child because he/she is looking back at them as an adult.
Hope that helps. Do others have anything to add?
What's your opinion on using contractions in fictional writing? I try to avoid it whenever possible (other than in dialogue that is), using "could not" rather than "couldn't" etc., but sometimes it seems unavoidable. Sometimes not using contractions makes the writing too formal or disrupts the flow of the sentence, or at least that's the problem I run into. What do you think?
The only time you should absolutely avoid contractions is in very formal academic or professional writing. When it comes to creative writing, it’s perfectly fine to use either contractions or to not. It depends only on the tone you’re trying to convey. Non-contractions obviously give a the impression of a more formal or distanced person; that might work if you’re writing about a professor, or from the point of view of a scientist or an old society woman. Contractions are much more casual and colloquial—most people use contractions in every day speech. Dialogue aside, you should still use them if your main character or narrator would. Obviously it’d be impossible to write about/from the perspective of a southern man or a teenager without using contractions. It really all just depends on the voice you’re trying to present.