Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Voice - A Question of When

I usually write first person and my narrators tend to talk like regular people. Which means sometimes they say "kinda" and "gonna" instead of the more proper "kind of" and "going to".

In my mind, when I write first person, everything in the book is being "said" by my character, whether it's dialogue or internal thought/narration. Which means that everything should be said the way they speak. But I know others feel differently. Some writers/readers feel that anything that's not actual dialogue should be written in "proper" English. I can sort of see where they're coming from and can see times where this idea of separating narration from dialogue works better than others.

For example, a character who always says "ain't", and is surrounded by people who also, always say "ain't", would sound weird to me if when narrating or describing something, they used "isn't" instead.

So I'm asking for your thoughts on this. Which do you personally prefer? Keeping your characters narration in line with their dialogue, or separating them? Why?


  1. It's a fine line because a reader could get annoyed if they think it's too much, but I'm beta reading an ms now where it throws me when the narrative is in proper English because the character doesn't speak or think like that. Her thoughts would be in the same style as her dialogue so it seems strange when there's an 'isn't' instead of 'ain't.' That's just my opinion--and I've never written anything where that was an issue. So not sure how helpful my comment is...:)

  2. I agree with you when it comes to first person PoV. It totally depends on the writer, and your reasons are valid. As a reader, if you've ever read Mark Twain, his narrative was always consistent with his dialog. I'm a stickler for SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) though; I would only tolerate this if the MC is the narrator, and there is a noticeable twang or dialect in the dialog that tells the reader that the character always uses improper English, not just now and then. Hope this helps.

  3. I'm a huge stream-of-conscious writer, so usually if my character would say it, they narrate that way too. It's hard, though, not to go too far.

  4. Hmmm... I agree with Kristi that it's a fine line. I will use some words that my character wouldn't use in dialogue. But at the same time, I make sure to include lots of her words in the non-dialogues sections. So, yup, that's my politician's answer for you. :)

  5. I like both. I think as long as it's used where your character would naturally use it, it'll be fine :)

  6. kinda and gonna is not included in the Queen's English.

  7. I must've been on vacation when this one was posted.

    I'm having issues with it in my current WIP. My characters often say "ain't" in dialog, but in narration, I try to use it sparingly and still keep my MC's voice. If slang words are over used, it can make the narration hard to read. "Ain't" is not a very hard word to read, neither is "kinda" or "gonna", but when you have a character who constantly butchers the English language, it's hard to put that into narration.

    My Jack for example: "I ain't never been in no airport, but I reckon they'd notice a dead body goin through security. Specially if it was walkin'."

    If he was my narrator, even I would give up after trying to read one full page of that.

    Charlaine Harris does a great job in her Sookie Stackhouse books. You still get the feel of Sookie's southern twang, without having an overload of poor spelling and grammar.

    Great post!


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