re: Forcing Readers to Read It Your Way

posted 10/31/11

Dear Editor…

To me the use of ellipses, em dashes, and the use of italics to emphasis specific words are very much a part of both the author’s voice but more importantly the character’s voice. Some critiquers have said nothing about the amount of each of these included in my story, while others have had a fit. I want to say, “Have you talked with any teenagers recently, especially teen girls?” My female main character’s POV includes many more these style type things than does the male character’s POV. It’s part of what’s different about their voice.

Would LOVE your take on this,
Beth

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Dear Beth…

You’re trying to write the teen accent, girl, and written accents almost always distract. The writing becomes about using typographical trickery to force the printed words to make certain sounds in readers’ minds, and the reading experience becomes a conscious effort to read the accent rather than focus on the content. Distraction city. Readers should sink into your story, not recite it. Don’t get me wrong, total thumbs up for trying to create an authentic teen voice. But don’t confuse “authentic” with mimicry. Real-life talking is a mess of meandering, stuttery gobbledygook. Writers approximate real-life talking styles to keep their fiction accessible even as they create voice. A book full of forced accent like “Oh my gawd! I was so, like, mortified—what with being a girl and all…”, can overwhelm readers, especially kids. Stop forcing it. Instead, use action between the lines of dialogue to create emphasis, and use repetition and hyperbole: “I full-on dive into the car and then ball up on the floorboard with my jacket over my head. Kill me now. Just kill me now and get it over with. Life at Derkson High is a living nightmare.” Less distracting, more dynamic, totally teen.

Happy writing!
The Editor

P.S. For more on this topic, read Dialogue, Narrative Voice, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
posted by: The Editor
under: Dialogue, Narrative Voice, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
Comments to "re: Forcing Readers to Read It Your Way" | Add a Comment
    1. Bill wrote (on 10/31/11 at 1:20 pm) :

      Excellent point on the nuanced way to create voice. I agree with Dear-Editor. When this comes up, I always think of “Huckleberry Finn”. I totally love the book, but the way the dialog is written is hard for me to decipher without reading it out loud. Not sure modern editors would except that. (Though boy, what a book!) Approximation can be key. Another idea, what about using this style only sometimes. I was once told to establish an accent do it the Huck Finn way at first, get it in the reader’s mind and then you don’t have to do it again or that often. The reader intuits the accent from then on. Problem solved.

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    2. Laura C. wrote (on 10/31/11 at 4:10 pm) :

      Wow! Great advice, and I loved the example you used; it just oozed teen voice. That’s such a struggle for me. I wonder if it gets any easier…

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    3. Trisha wrote (on 10/31/11 at 5:15 pm) :

      Love your example. This is something I have struggled with a little in my ADULT fiction. Because of the way my friends and I talk, I guess I’ve tried to replicate that. I say ‘like’ a lot, and I’m 31 :P

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      The Editor replied (on 10/31/11 at 9:46 pm) :

      I think the “new” uses of “like” have been around long enough now that teens can no longer claim sole rights to them. Here’s a fun article about Americans’ many uses for “like” as perceived by BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11426737

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      Andrea replied (on 11/01/11 at 3:12 am) :

      I appreciate the info about creating voice. It’s hard to know, when you’re writing, how it’s going to come across to the reader.

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      Jane Buttery replied (on 11/01/11 at 10:54 pm) :

      I believe voice is very important and reading a passage aloud helps one hear it. I am in a quandary about a historical novel I’ve started and worried over. I want to show how one woman( Catherine Malott Girty) captured by the Shawnee in 1780, rescued in 1784 and married to her rescuer, Simon Girty, settles in Malden township near a British Fort. But I also want to show how Tecumeh’s sister Star Watcher has a burden for her brother and the fate of her tribe at that time. Catherine can settle down to a farm; Star watcher has to face many moves and ultimately I imagine the women meeting again in Malden in about 1812.
      I feel there are these two ways of life to show. Is it best to write about them from an older age and write looking back or to take them from youth when Catherine was captured at 14 and Star Watcher was about 20? That is my quandary as I am old(75) and I wonder if I will be able to capture their young voices and feelings. My last historical novel was about two boys meeting in Amherstbrg in 1846 and that worked out as students enjoyed it.

      The Editor replied (on 11/02/11 at 6:55 am) :

      Jane–I’ll answer your question in tomorrow’s DearEditor.com post (although I’ll have to shorten the question a bit to make it fit the site’s question panel). Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/tUzx15

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