Trapping Wild Snippets of Dialog

Title page of "A Christmas Carol"

I am earwormed by words.

I have my suspicions that this is a common affliction of writers, but, I also admit that I have never asked my writer friends if they carry phrases or entire speeches in their heads. I know that “Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.” While that line of dialog came immediately to mind, I will point out that I’m not actually hearing anything, I’m not that far gone.

This form of the disease is worse than just being infected by some annoying song. It means that *in addition* to occasionally having songs stuck in your head for hours on end, I get phrases and words stuck in my head. When I hear just one bit of that phrase, my brain is forced to complete it.

If someone offers me a cup of tea? My brain hears Giles1 answering “Tea is soothing. I wish to be tense,” even if I would like a cup of tea.

Poetry, scripted dialog, books; any and all of it gets trapped in my brain where it does its best to make me even crazier than I already am.  I hear the word “hole” and my brain goes straight to “In a hole, in the ground, there lived a Hobbit,” and it will not stop until the dwarves have proven they know more about the inside of Bilbo’s larder than he does himself, and will then offer selections from “Fellowship of the Ring.”

And, this affliction doesn’t stop with English. I have bits of “Wenn nur die Menschen Hiefische Waere2” that surface from time to time, and bits of “Rumpelstilzchen.3”  Latin makes its appearance on occasion, as does  Swahili, which is really odd, as I have never even heard Swahili.

Let’s say that someone utters the phrase “dead as a doornail.”  My brain turns into some weird form of Google, and pulls up everything I’ve ever known about that phrase. It starts by reciting “Marley was dead: to begin with…” and wanders off for paragraphs about how certain Scrooge and all the rest of us ought to be that Jacob Marley was pushing up daises and not pinning for the Fjords4.

See? I typed about pushing up daisies and there appear the Fjords.

It also means that I get whole phrases of the current writing project, whatever that might be, stuck in my head. Entire pieces will be inspired by one stray thought or phrase that caught my fancy. I’ll hold that phrase hostage for weeks until I’ve worried it to death with trying it in slightly different arrangements, or putting  other phrases and oddments onto it. By the time I actually sit down to turn it into something presentable, it all sounds like mush.

This one, of course, started simply with the opening sentence, and all of this has been hammered out, bit by bit for weeks until I finally surrendered and wrote it down, and now it can stick in someone else’s brain.

  1. Rupert Giles,  Librarian, Watcher and Magic Shop owner from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s British, and they’re supposed to always want tea, so, when questioned about his choice of coffee, he replied with the aforementioned phrase. My brain does the whole scene.
  2. “If only men were sharks,” It’s a satirical piece by Bertold Brecht.
  3. You probably know this as “Rumpelstiltskin,” by the Brother Grimm.
  4. That’s right. My brain starts with Dickens and ends in Monty Python.

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