The Dialogue Of Hollow Shotguns: Part One


In the following slab of words I will be dissecting and anatomising the dialogue of Hollow Shotguns, exploring and explaining the methods I used to make it unique to The Set.

Some folks thoroughly dig the offbeat dialogue of Hollow Shotguns. Some folks are somewhat rattled by it. Some American readers suppose impenetrable British slang peppers the dialogue, maybe because I forgot the setting of my work is America. Some British readers think obscure American slang studs the dialogue, perhaps because I forgot my own nationality.

In truth, the dialogue holds both American and British slang, interspersed with language from other cultures, as well as slang I completely invented. I fashioned a city from scratch for Hollow Shotguns, one to be used in subsequent works.

Riverstones City.

Or as its dwellers often call it, Stones. This offered me freedom to do something interesting with dialogue. I wanted Stonians to possess their own unique tongue, a language both recognisable yet foreign to us, the readers, the outsiders.

I primarily ensured the jargon of the boys was not strapped to any specific crowd. The Set dispense skater slang (“Rad!”),  geek speak (“Prolly”), punk patter (“Sick!”),  surfer speech (“Gnarly!”, beyond others, all twisted up with the everyday language kids spit in general.

Thereafter, to guarantee The Set’s tongues were true melting pots, I siphoned expressions from various cultures into the vocabulary of the boys. There are drips of everything from Hispanic culture (“cabrón”), British (“Stan-dard!”), Hip-Hop (“Kicks”), to more traditional American colloquialisms. An obscure example is language from my own culture, British Indian. For instance, the ‘la’ which the boys occasionally attach to their utterances, “Need your shotgun, la!”, is actually a Gujarati term comparable to the interjection, ‘man’, which The Set also frequently happen to use… “This demoniac bullshit, man.”

To deepen the potpourri of language that is Stones-Speak, I drizzled in slang and phrases from eras bygone. Language from the 60s (“Swell”), 70s (“Far out”), 80s (“What’s your damage?”), 90s (“Hella”), all issued alongside contemporary slang, “Beasting on ya.”

Perhaps the most throwing choice I made was to totally concoct slang. A prominent example is ‘stir’. I’ve highlighted this one as it further illustrates how The Set twist semantics to suit the context. The prevailing usage of ‘stir’ by The Set, and possibly the most logical, is when it infers motion… “Let’s stir.” … “Stir back, guys!” … “Let’s jus’ carry on stirrin’ through.” … “I’ll stir once ya jaw which direction we’re stirrin’ in.” In another context, ‘stir’ assumes a sense akin to happening or occurring… “What’s stirring, Cade?” … “What stirred?” In yet another instance, ‘stir’ means to do something… “Need you to stir summat. Stirrin’?” Drifting full-circle, Cade uses ‘stir’ in another of its original meanings, to denote awaken or rouse… “Jus’ stir us if ya sight demons.”

The Set also invent words by slinging the negative prefix ‘un’ before the root of existing words, altering its form…“Undoubt”, “Unswell”. They do this to already non-existent words, “Undicked”.

All of which exemplifies the dynamic relationship Stonians, and especially The Set, have with language. Or, how much The Set enjoy mauling, mutilating and unapologetically fuckering the English Language.

The above is by no means an exhaustive deconstruction of Stonian slang. I would rather readers engage with the argot of Hollow Shotguns themselves instead of being informed of all of its secrets. I wanted readers to feel a touch challenged by the dialogue, to perhaps not fully grasp the semantics of certain utterances on a virgin read. I wanted readers to have to occasionally gaze back over The Set’s words, to employ context and those words they did understand to unravel the meanings for themselves. In some instances, I invited readers to perhaps even offer the slang their own meanings. Indeed, Hollow Shotguns has slang which even I don’t know the true connotation of. Only The Set knows…

From a more architectural angle, I played with the construction of language. I wanted Stones-Speak to exhibit a snappy economy. The Set’s collective tongue has a deliberately elliptic quality. The Set speak with swiftness, excising almost all surplus words, firing their speech out. They never pause to spell-out their shorthand to us, the outsiders.

Heightening this linguistic thrift, The Set trim their individual words, routinely clipping the formal ‘g’ at the end of a word, for instance… “freakin’ ”, “driftin’ ”, “eyeballin’ ”. Or the ‘t’… “Jus’ ”, “drif’ ”, “Wha’ ”. Or even the ‘ck’… “fu’ ”.

They snip the start of words too… “ ‘thority” (authority), “ ‘member” (remember), “ ‘phalts” (asphalts), “ ‘Sides” (besides).

And occasionally, they hack at both edges… “ ’Cordin’ ” (according).

The Set also amputate whole segments of words. For example, their term for a house is “dwell”, a reduction of ‘dwelling’… “Hope my dwell ain’t crisped yet.”

The Set coalesce words. ‘For sure’ becomes “Fasure”. ‘Trying to’ becomes “tryna”. Then there’s “Gotsa”, “Needta”, “s’more”.

More subtly, I contrasted the discourse of the boys with adults or non-Stonians. Since there are long periods of Hollow Shotguns where The Set do not encounter any grown-ups, this clash is perhaps sharpest within the chapter, ‘The Square’, particularly with the news reports, or the final chapter, ‘Resurrections’. The communication of adults and of authority is more composed, less elliptic and weird. Yet in crucial teeming irony, their vernacular lacks the wit, spark and sharpness of the boys.

Even subtler, the linguistic personality of The Set is a little more sober and composed in serious scenes.

Stones-Speak was not quite so idiosyncratic during the first couple of drafts. Slang did spice the dialogue, but I hesitated in truly sculpting a whole fresh oral identity for The Set and Stones. Through the course of redrafts, I realised perhaps not handing everything on a platter, spelling it all out and leaving shit to interpretation would be no bad thing. I felt I should challenge the audience. I recognised this would render my work less marketable and accessible to the mainstream, but I had to do it.

For those who dig the dialogue of Hollow Shotguns, other works to scope out which boast their own unique language include The Wire, A Clockwork Orange and Brick. The Wire especially contains beautifully juxtaposed dialogue. There is the somewhat feral, ever-fluid tongue of the streets, and then the more formal, inflexible tongue of bureaucracy. The Wire point-blank refuses to spell everything out to its audience. Indeed, George Pelecanos, a writer on the show, even chided those who used subtitles to decipher the dialogue. I’ve actually received unanticipated, but immensely welcome, comments from some who liken reading Hollow Shotguns to an experience at times similar to watching The Wire, in that until you acclimatise to the use of language certain passages demand to be read over and over before they are fully deciphered, just as certain scenes of The Wire, if not the entire show, demand to be watched over and over due to its distinct language and nonconformist approach to storytelling.

In the second part, the dialogue will be deconstructed from a more thematic perspective. I’ll unveil some of the irony, foreshadowing and symbolism lacing the utterances. Until then, I’ll leave you with these words from writer and filmmaker Eryk Pruitt, who said this about the dialogue of Hollow Shotguns

“If this is how we all speak at the end of the world, then bring on the apocalypse.”

Fu’ yes.

– Khalid

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28 thoughts on “The Dialogue Of Hollow Shotguns: Part One

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  9. The speech of The Set often seems like gunfire, their words snap out as though bullets from a gun. Perhaps the hollow shotguns are the mouths of The Set too, their words and utterings are to paint the times, yet ultimately hollow (in the world they are in, not to the reader, the reader has a lot to learn) in that there is nobody there to savour their plight, to copy this idiolect and replicate it within that environment. As readers we can learn much from this, these are kids who can be the ultimate non-conformists, not bound by school or societal rules, who can speak freely and be whoe’er they choose as there is really nobody to stop them. With nothing to lose there can be an honesty, an openness allowing these words to come out, often cut short or seemingly made up, but nothing to stop them. This may be the natural evolution of language should it come around that the only people left on the Earth are really children without a complete education. Surely language would distort and create some sort of urban English creole?

    • Some interesting notions, Jacob. Your description of The Set’s mouths being like firing guns is awesome (and a description I wish I’d come up with myself…) And your idea that the non-conformist language of The Set is actually a language of freedom, “honesty”, “openness” is compelling. As are your final thoughts on how The Set’s speech “may be the natural evolution of language should it come around that the only people left on the Earth are really children without a complete education” (I’m assuming here you’re alluding to how in Hollow Shotguns children are immunised to the disease). It really is interesting to mull just what would happen to language if adults and authority suddenly vanished and language was let loose to kids…

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