Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Really, y'all, I'm just a little different...

My mother-in-law thinks I have a southern accent.

Now, I may in fact have a trace of one (shuddup, Kreekie--I know you're reading this), but not nearly as pronounced as the one I unconsciously adopt whenever I'm talking to my MIL. I can't help it--it's like it's contagious and I have no immunity.

I was raised in Texas, the product of a Missouri-born dad and a Swedish mom. A military brat surrounded by so many variations in dialect I instinctively sought neutrality of voice. Which, it turns out, made me the perfect vocal canvass for other accents to paint upon.

Same thing happened to me when the theater god and I spent a few weeks in Ireland. After two days, I was lilting with the best of them, and not intentionally. TG laughed and mocked, but to no avail. My brain just seemed to think it was the thing to do.

My daughter tells me this is a common linguistic phenomenon, especially apparent in people who seek to make those with whom they are talking more comfortable. Some sort of mirroring behavior, designed by Mother Nature to help you fit in to new situations. I can buy that. I do want the people I speak with to feel at ease.

(Mostly. Sometimes I want just the opposite, like the time I was having a small conversation with my ex-sister-in-law about her treatment of my baby brother before their divorce. I can guarantee you, there was no trace of the Midwest in my voice then. In fact, after overhearing one particular phone conversation, my kids told me I just sounded "scary," even though I never raised my voice OR made any actual threats of physical violence. But perhaps she inferred...)

Anyway, this is just a round-about way of saying we are different things to different people. I am different as a daughter than I am as a mother. In fact, a different mother to my daughter than I am to my son. The me who is a wife and life-partner is not the same as the me who is a buddy or a writing pal.

So, what's the point of all this self-analysis? Well, for me it serves as a reminder that the same thing goes for my characters. They are different people to their various friends and relations, too. My mc slides (or sometimes fights sliding) into certain patterns of behavior with family members and old acquaintances. Teasing, combative, immature, thoughtful, funny, kind, brave, whiny, relaxed...she can be any or all of these, depending on the character(s) she's sharing the page with in any given scene.

And now I'm off to open the WIP and see which of her various selves I'm dealing with today.



Thanks for the timely reminder that I need to make sure the characters in my new WIP have plenty of layers!

My mom is a lot like this. To people who don't know her well, she seems like a sweet, harmless, motherly sort of lady. But if you ever cross a member of her family, be prepared for Sheena the SheBeast. No joke, a high school boyfriend once told me, "when we first started dating, I was afraid of your dad because he's so burly and quiet. But after awhile, I realized it's your mom I should worry about." Too true!


Linda G. said...

Sounds like me, Tawna. I'm the nicest, most non-threatening person you'll ever meet--that's just my nature. Until somebody messes with my family. Then watch out, because I will get medieval on that somebody's ass.

*cough* Figuratively speaking, of course.

Candyland said...

Linda I'm the same. I'm generally a doormat, (to my demise), until someone references my daughter or husband in a negative fashion. Then, as you so delicately put it, I will also get medieval.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Do you think the ability to slide into different accents also helps you slip into the 'voices' of your characters? It seems to me a person who hears and can mimic different dialects would also have a leg up when it comes to distinct character voices.

Or so I hope, being the northerner who lived in Texas for all of three months before being no long distinguishable from the natives.

Linda G. said...

Hi, Candyland! Welcome to my blog. :) I expect the "medieval" reaction is common to a lot of women. Might be estrogen dependent. ;)

Kari, I think it may indeed have something to do with it. Dialogue is my favorite part of writing--I "hear" my characters' voices very clearly when I'm writing. (Sometimes literally, when I reread what I've written out loud. I try to only do that when I'm alone, though--writers have enough of a reputation for being crazy as it is.)

Glad I'm not the only one who absorbs accents by osmosis. :)

Candyland said...

Linda, the pleasure's mine. You're posts are great. Found you through blog-stalking Tawna today and glad I did.

Linda G. said...

Candyland, glad you found your way here. Isn't Tawna a hoot? I love her blog. :)

Candyland said...

I agree. Her blog is pretty sweet!

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I can do Canadian and Native American, too, given a few hours to hang out with them. That's me, multilingual.

Linda G. said...

Hanging out with them & hearing it is key for me, too. In one ear and out my mouth. :D

If I think about it too much, and actually TRY to put on an accent, it's a whole lot harder.


My ears were burning, so I knew I was being talked about over here! :)

Thanks for the compliments, Candyland and Linda G. You both have terrifically funny blogs as well, and I've been having such a blast reading them!


Annie said...

I love this post, 'cause it makes me feel less alone. When I'm speaking to someone, I have to try not to adopt their accent. I'm always afraid they'll think I'm making fun of them. I work for a company that is based in England. Countless times, my older son has rolled his eyes and asked, "did you talk to someone in the UK today?" A few years ago, I spent four days in Victoria, BC, and came home with the Canadian diphthong. It still crops up from time to time. And yet as sensitive as I am to my linguistic environment, I'm horrible at "doing" accents.

Linda, in case you're wondering, I found you by way of Joanna Bourne's blog.

Linda G. said...

Thanks, Tawna. :)

And welcome, Annie! I love Jo's blog. She has a way of making all writing-related topics so accessible, not to mention entertaining. And, of course, her books are totally drool-worthy.

I guess you're like Kari and me--the accents slip in unconsciously. Personally, I think it gives us all a quirky charm. ;)