Sometimes I struggle with the fact that much of what I read is because I feel obligated to read it. Whether it’s a classic like The Aeneid or Paradise Lost. Much of the Star Wars EU (Legends) fell under that dark umbrella. Crystal Star anyone? Yea that’s what I thought. In my early days of reading I read anything from Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King, without giving too much thought to the way it was written.
I read Poe because it was dark and dreary. It fit my personality most of the time (you could say that I wasn’t the most talkative person ever). I read Stephen King because, as a teen, I liked being scared to turn the page (and as a native New Englander, it’s somewhat of a requirement in the manual of life). I distinctly remember my English instructors at Dean Jr. College despising King. Telling me how amateurish his writing is. I didn’t care. As a 19 year old I enjoyed it regardless of how he wrote. He spoke my language; tapped into a budding wannabe writer of horror/suspense. I enjoyed it; not for the writing, but for the way it made me feel. It was exciting, suspenseful, and at times terrifying. I was also impressed with the way King used specific dialects and speech patterns to inform the reader of where the story took place and to make it more believable to the reader.
As a reader it’s so important to be able to forget that you’re actually reading a story. I want it to be so believable that I get lost in the journey. It’s all about details. I like details.
Jumping ahead to the present day, I was recommended Preacher, written by 4 time Eisner Award winning comic writer Garth Ennis, with art by Steve DIllon. After putting it off for quite a few months, I finally dove into the first trade paperback, To say it blew me away would be a gross understatement. I’m going to attempt to portray my giddiness over reading Preacher on “paper”, which isn’t easy to do without pictures and a few strategically placed 4-letter words, but I’ll try.
As a creative writing student at Southern New Hampshire University, I’ve taken my fair share of writing workshop classes in which it is instilled with a jackhammer, to “show don’t tell” and “write dialogue the way it’s actually spoken” (minus the umm’s and aah’s of course). John Dufresne once said, “Scene is at the heart of the story, and dialogue is at the heart of the scene.” This explains why I was so enthralled in the story of Preacher. I don’t want to get into the story of the comic too much, I’ll just say that it is comprised of three main characters; Jesse Custer (The Preacher), Cassidy (Jesse’s friend and hard drinking, hard living vampire), and Tulip (Jesse’s girlfriend and general kick-ass female protagonist).
The story generally takes place in Texas, and to make the story that much more believable, Ennis has masterfully written Jesse’s dialogue with a southern dialect perfectly.
“Me an’ Cindy get on real well. We sit up ‘til dawn drinkin’ an’ talkin’. I like her, she likes me. She all but invited me home a couple times but she’s waitin’ for me to make the first move.”
That’s by no means Shakespeare, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s true to the character. My point is as a writer, to write well, is not to “write well”, it’s to be true to the story; to the characters. If this happens, everything else will fall into place. As the series progresses, Ennis creates backstories for each of the main characters. Most notably is Tulip, who was brought up by her widowed father, after her mother died giving birth. Before Tulip was born, her father thought the idea of his wife giving birth to a girl ridiculous, and even laughed at the thought with his beer guzzling buddies down at the local pub.
His mentality took a complete 180 when the nurse told him his wife died giving birth to a girl. One look at his new born baby daughter and he was smitten. He brought her up as he saw fit in rural Texas--hunting, shooting, fishing, even teaching her how to defend herself while being teased for not being “girly” enough by the girls in her school, or for trying to do “boy” activities with the boys. That baseball bat came in handy.
Cassidy. I got two words to describe him. Irish. Vampire. Garth Ennis, hailing originally from Ireland was able to use his knowledge of the Irish dialect and speech inflections to give Cassidy an air of authenticity. “Writing what you know” is another one of those lessons every writer hears every second of every day. I can’t dispute it. It works great here.
To me this is what makes a good story. When you get so caught up in the dialogue, that you don’t even pay attention to the plot until you notice that you're in love with some of the characters and want to drown the rest. That’s a good story. One that makes you feel. Whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness, joy, disgust, or relief. Preacher made me feel a lot of things.
@EricOnkenhout or @WritingEric