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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Mechanical Voices

   
Author Topic: Mechanical Voices
philocinemas
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I have a question about punctuation. I am working on a story that has a large metal robot in it. There will also be several other characters interacting with each other and the robot, often in groups. My question is whether I should punctuate the robot's speech "like so" or <like so>.

The second way is less conventional, but it does differentiate the robot's speech from other living characters, which would make it easier to avoid endless attributions. I might have a problem with commas and other punctuation. However, my main concern is whether this would be frowned upon by a first or second reader.

The first way is what I always do, but for some reason it just doesn't feel right for this character. It's going to have a deep metallic voice.

I would appreciate any constructive thoughts.


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Reziac
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I'd say if you want the robot to be regarded as a person, or as a personlike character, use quotes. If you want it to be distinctly a machine, use brackets. (I've seen that done before.)


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Grayson Morris
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I agree with Rezlac: it depends on how you want the reader to feel about the robot.

Patty Jansen's story "His Name in Lights" makes a similar distinction: the artificial life form MC, with whom the reader should empathize, speaks "like this," but his internal computational decision-making circuits talk [like this] (and in Courier).

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited January 20, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited January 20, 2011).]


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EVOC
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I always think of <this> as telepath dialogue rather then actual spoken word. Of course that is how I read it.


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pdblake
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Looks like dodgy HTML tags to me

How about italics if you really feel the need not to use quotes? Though personally, to me, speech is speech. You'd be better showing that it's a robotic voice, through your prose or the robot's phrases or dialect, than just letting brackets tell it.


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MartinV
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Robert Heinlein had a talking computer in 'The Moon is a harsh mistress'. It spoke like any human being, no extra markings.
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Wordcaster
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Somewhat unrelated, Cormac McCarthy doesn't even use quotation marks for dialog, believing that excess punctuation blots up the page. He commented if one writes well, the excess punctuation is not required.

Using a convention other than quotation marks is a novelty in my mind and is distracting. The "voice" of the robot should be clear enough to not need added distinction.

Then again, there are published authors who have succeeded with a different opinion.


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micmcd
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Re: italics.

To me, italics imply thought - human thought - and are not something that is heard at all. I might be biased because in my WIP I use that for direct internal monologue as well as communication via thought, but I've seen it used in other works as well.


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Robert Nowall
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I'm going to reach back into the deeps of SF and fantasy and pull out a character from the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. (What, you thought it was just the one about the Wizard?)

He had a mechanical man who, in dialog, spoke with ev-er-y syl-la-ble punc-tu-a-ted with dash-es like that.


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philocinemas
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Some good points. I don't want it to be a distraction. My main concern was how the character would be perceived in strings of dialogue, such as:

"Where is the...?" A said.
"He is..." the Robot said.
"We must..." B said.

(or)

"Where is the...? A said.
<He is...>
"We must..." B said.

I don't want him perceived as human, but I don't want the different punctuation to be a distraction. Some of my characters are going to have speech and mannerisms that are almost robotic and I want to differentiate between them and the actual robot. At some points, the robot might even seem more human than some of the people, but I want him to continue to be perceived as mechanical.


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Reziac
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Using quote marks also implies that the live characters hear the robot as a human voice. Given your desired perceptions, I'd definitely go with <brackets> or at least a different font, with quote marks omitted. Courier usually comes off as "machine voice" when set against the typical proportional (Times or related) font used in books.

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Wordcaster
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Two recent writing excuses podcasts talked about dialog and they looked at examples where dialog attribution was forbidden. Worth a listen...

Perhaps the robot has a certain manner of speaking that is unique enough to make it clear he is speaking. Or if you follow Reziac's suggestion, your task is probably easiier.

Either way, have fun!


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Smiley
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I kinda agree with Wordcaster when he says;
quote:
Using a convention other than quotation marks is a novelty in my mind and is distracting. The "voice" of the robot should be clear enough to not need added distinction.

But you say your robot has a deep metallic, mechanical voice. I would approach it descriptively. Describe his voice and then how the humans around him perceive it. Are they off-put by it or disturbed by it's timber, distrustful of it or even resentful? Maybe even intrigued by the technology, depending on the character. That's my 2 cents.


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philocinemas
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All right, thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I think I'll go ahead and write it with the <...>, and then change it later if people feel it's a distraction. I will try to differentiate the voices enough to not need the distinction, but I suspect it will be difficult with what I am planning. In some ways the robot will end up being the most "human" of any of my characters.
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walexander
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Phil,

I was kind of thinking about it.

Whats very distinctive about a mechanical voice is the stop-start.

Perhaps you could create a new way of looking at it.

Hello, I am robot 212, Please know, I am here, For your, Needs.

A mechanical voice to me does sound stop-start but not every syllable

so I wouldn't do
He-l-lo I-am-rob-ot-21-2 *This sounds slow. thought it could work if it was fifties and before. Real old machine language. but...

Hello-I-am-robot-212. Please-know. I-am-here. For-your. Needs.
or
Hello-I-am-robot-212-please-know-I-am-here-for-your-needs.

The feeling of stop-start makes the wording feel mechanical but I haven't seen it yet in another book.

Just a thought.

W.

[This message has been edited by walexander (edited January 21, 2011).]


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