Jon Gibbs (jongibbs) wrote,
Jon Gibbs

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Using Sayings And Proverbs To Flesh Out Characters



I like to have my characters use the occasional saying or proverb in my writing. I think it makes them more three-dimensional.



The best ones have a kind of poetry to them. ‘More haste less speed’; ‘Least said, soonest mended’, ‘No smoke without fire’ etc.


Of course, as writers, we must take care to use them correctly. For example, while you could probably get away with using ‘Least said, soonest mended’ in most stories, having someone say ‘We’re not at home to Mr. Rude’ in a Viking saga just wouldn’t fit. 

Nevertheless, used with care, they’re a powerful tool. 


I know what you’re thinking, that’s all fine and dandy-doodle, but what about those of us who write fantasy and science fiction? We can’t use well-known sayings in a non-earthly world at all.   


True enough. As a matter of fact, I face that exact same problem when I get back to work on my Champion novels next month.   They’re set in a medieval world where Humans are just one among dozens of species to have evolved into ‘humanoid’ form. Anytime one of my characters utters an ‘earthly’ saying, I risk breaking that suspension-of-disbelief contract with my reader.


However, that’s not to say we can’t use those sayings at all, but we do have to adapt them. For example, in Champion: A Union of Snakes, instead of ‘More haste, less speed’, I have a character say ‘No sense rushing. Not unless you want to get there slower’ (I know it doesn’t roll off the tongue so well, but the longer sentence fits well with this fellow’s garrulous manner).


Then there are the not so well known phrases, those catchy one-liners that perhaps aren’t so widely used, which are fair game to one and all.


Take my old gran for example. She had loads of them: ‘Better out than in’, ‘Who are you looking at, fish-face?’, ‘Nanny breaky fingers’.  I've used at least one of those in a novel. 


How about you? Do you have a favorite proverb or saying you've used in your writing?


Have you ever made up your own?


Tags: fiction, writing

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