It my seem obvious, but it’s worth stating – words are different when are spoken, and when written down.
For example, I was given a script to work on. My character seemed weak and subservient, but when I came to say the words out loud, the character changed. Still softly spoken, he now became stronger and assertive. It wasn’t me that changed him, the words aloud had changed him.
Actors know this of course. One of the reasons why Macbeth has been considered an unlucky play was that, for centuries, people believed the witches spells were real spells. Written down, they were harmless, but once spoken – then they became powerful. (A perfect example of this is the Doctor Who episode with Shakespeare. For a sci-fi fan/Shakespeare fanatic lover of words like me, that episode was heaven)
Dickens stories were written to be spoken out loud. I can just imagine reading ‘The Signalman’, by the fire, on Christmas Eve (the traditional time for ghost stories). With his gift for timing, and accents, this dialogue heavy story must have been chilling (it’s pretty scary just written down). I’ve seen both Patrick Stewart and Simon Callow do a reading of A Christmas Carol (which is as close as I’ll get to seeing Dickens do it) and it gives a whole new depth and meaning to the story. Allusions and ironies, jokes and melancholy I’d never really noticed before were suddenly there, in the actor’s voice.
And that’s how I write. If I get stuck, I stand up and read it aloud. Not in a mumbling monotone either. I act my stories out. I become little Charlotte Bronte, perched on the edge of the chair, in her rain-soaked dress, peering at the stranger. Then I become the mysterious stranger, sprawled in the armchair by the side of the fire. (Subtle advertising there! Bet there’s a few of you who’d like to read that story now…)And I act out the scene. And when I’ve run out of the words (normally at the point Ive got stuck), I improvise. Improvisation is supposed to be an actor’s skill, but really, it’s writer’s skill. And when I start to act and improvise that story out, the story comes naturally.
I highly recommend acting out your story, especially if you are writing a lot of dialogue. What sounds fancy on the page can sound awful when written out loud, and a burst of improvisation in the heat of the moment could inspire some wonderful phrases. But close the door and curtains first you wouldn’t want anyone else to catch you!