Posted in Craft of writing, Travel Writing, Writing

Writing dialogue using colorful, old sayings

Breakfast on the Porch this Morning

I recalled one of my current writing projects this morning. Our neighbor Niel (yes, that’s how he spells it) stopped by with his standard poodle Maggie on their walk while Lynn and I were having breakfast on the back porch.

As we discussed places we have lived before Lynn described to Niel that Madison, Wisconsin, the state’s capitol and home of the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1980s was known as “ten-square miles surrounded by reality.”

Niel followed with his experience in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Raleigh was referred to as the pat of butter on top of a bowl of grits.”

Old sayings or saws are colorful and useful in dialogue of specific periods of time and with specific trades or types of people.

Why am I collecting old sayings?

I set the historical romance that I am writing in the year 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake. My protagonist, Fiona Weston, travels on ship from San Francisco to India to sell her uncle’s remaining nine broodmares to the British/Indian military to breed with the their Manipuri horse for selective polo ponies in cavalry training.

I am collecting sayings that might have been used during that era and particularly by horsemen, and sailors, or old salts, as they called themselves. When using familiar adages or maxims, they bring dialogue to life, make people sound natural, and offer clues to the setting or era in which the story is written without having to state them explicitly.

How can you help? 

I’m asking you to submit old saws (or sayings) that you think might be useful in delivering dynamic dialogue in the novel, true to the period and a seafaring crew.

EXAMPLES

My dad was a colorful and humorous storyteller. (I got the story writing from him, but the humorous part–not so much.) Here are example of my favorites I remember from him, because of the image they sear into the imagination.

  • Giving that speech, Mama was as nervous as a cow on skates. 
  • Miss Blixen barely took a breath between sentences; her mouth ran like a babbling brook. 
  • When Buddy was around a girl he could be as skittish as a cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs.

Here’s how you can help!

Please add one or two favorite old sayings of yours below in the comments section, especially one for sailors or seafaring crew members. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m indebted to you.

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Author:

Writer, published author, traveler, blogger, workshop facilitator, spiritual sojourner. Authored coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away. This story covers my travels at a young age as a result of my involvement with my local church. My relationship with my mother prepares me for my ventures into the world. But I disappoint both family and church by leaving the church. Working on novel about a young woman who travels to India in 1906 to sell her uncle's horses. She loses her brother in route, builds a friendship in India that solidifies her sense of self that she has questioned all her life, and finds a man on board ship who loves her just the way she is but struggles to commit. I live in Texas with the love of my life, husband Lynn, and our Shih Tzu, Murphy, who is more cat than dog.

2 thoughts on “Writing dialogue using colorful, old sayings

  1. Great blog. My husband frequently spouts old sayings that his father used, but of course now I’m drawing a blank

    Ethel Lee-Miller

    >

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