Tags: linguistics

Voice – By making our characters sound like kids, do we make kids sound like idiots?

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 9, 2012
Categories: Craft
Comments: 1 Comment

Voice is tricky AND essential.  We create voice through both dialogue and narrative.  By deliberate use of specific vocabulary, unique sentence structure, and the focus of our character’s observations and thoughts, we create voice and, thus, bring our characters to life.

When I first started writing novels, Scriva Nicole was constantly pointing out vocabulary that sounded too “writerly.”  She was right, of course.  I love words and am happy to pepper my prose with slightly obscure ones, but those words didn’t sound like they should come out of the mouth of a 13-year-old boy.  Did I really think he’d say a river was “silvered” by moonlight or “imbued” with internal light?  I revised and revised until my character was using unique but relevant words.

All of this is to say, I understand why authors would choose to eliminate the divide between subject and object pronouns.  Authors I respect do it in books I love.  But it is driving me bat-shit-crazy.  Let me show you.

 

Long ago, when we were little, me and Chrissy did something bad. We said we were going to Annie’s house to play, but we didn’t.

 

 

 

 

Upstairs, it’s just me and my parents, Professor Twitchett down the hall, that flight attendant lady who’s never home, and the couple across the hall from us.

 

 

 

 

 

Then we went back to the hotel. There were parties there, but it was mostly college kids.  Usually we can get in, because me and Link and Marty and Calista, we can turn on the charm.

 

 

 

 

The effect in all three quotes is to create a kid voice.  After all, adults know that SHE AND I will go to the movies not SHE AND ME.  Kids haven’t quite got it down, right?  Unfortunately, after my kids and I finished reading Project Jackalope aloud, I realized that my kids’ regular speech was full of incorrect pronoun usage:

Me and Joshua are going to play Wii.

Beryl and me need a snack.

OMG!  My kids sounded like idiots.  The hub and I came down with a grammar-hammer, and they are starting to sound like people who could hold down jobs one day, but it got me thinking about the cyclical nature of story-thought-language-story.

It’s all connected.

I know enough from my days studying linguistics at St. John’s College to know that language evolves.  (Google it, if you want proof!  Ha ha!)  I’m pretty sure that if we continue to write this way, language will follow us.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it for a kid-like sound, but if you do, ME AND YOU might never sound the same!

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