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  1. #1
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    Ongoing problem I've been struggling with

    Hi all.

    This question concerns writing fiction. How informal do you go with your writing?

    Examples:
    It is I who am sorry. (correct)
    It is I who is sorry. (incorrect)

    It is you who are mistaken. (correct)
    It is you who's mistaken. (incorrect)

    In both these cases I feel compelled to use the incorrect version. It's more informal, which I strive for in my writing (depending on the characters). Some would say I'm "writing down", and if taken too far, I'm certain that's true. But I think one of a writer's main responsibilities is getting out of the way of the story -- making the story as easy to read as possible and limiting your readers' stumbles. If I were reading the two correct examples above I would stumble. Yes, I know it might be possible to reword the examples, and if it's dialogue you write it the way the character would, but I'm referring to an interior monologue, and this is a question about formal versus informal

    The problem is compounded further with my current work; one of the characters is a former English teacher.

    Curious as to what others think. Thanks in advance!!



  2. #2
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    Both read a bit stilted. Informal would seem to be, "I'm the one who should be sorry." But that's how my character might say it.


    In the end, it's not a matter of proper or improper English. It's how the character would speak, when confronted with that situation. So the best person to ask isn't us, it's the character.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    It's how the character would speak, when confronted with that situation. So the best person to ask isn't us, it's the character.
    Thanks, Jay!

    Actually, in the first example it's possible to go even more informal: It is me who is sorry. As you state, it depends on the character. But what if it's in third omniscient, there may be no known narrator?

  4. #4
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    Person matters little. Telling the reader "I said,..." Or "He said... changes nothing. The same person says the same thing, because for the one living the scene, the time is always "now," so it's first person present tense, just as it is in our own lives. So the idea isn't to inform the reader of what's going on. That's passive, and it places us squarely between reader and protagonist. How can our protagonist be the reader's avatar if that's true?

    The problem is that if we tell the story to the reader, as an external storyteller, the reader must depend on what our words mean to them, with their background and experience acting as a filter. So what we mean isn't quite what the reader gets, unless we remove that filter making everyone use what it means to the protagonist, based on their background and experience. Then, everyoner uses the same filter. For a more detailed explanation of what I mean, try this article.

  5. #5
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    Thanks, Jay. Curious though, have you ever written a novel in omniscient?

  6. #6
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Anything goes in dialogue, as far as I'm concerned. People say all sorts of things in a variety of ways and often don't say what they mean. However, narration typically requires, at a minimum, consistency in voice.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Oberon View Post
    However, narration typically requires, at a minimum, consistency in voice.
    Thanks, John. I worded my question very poorly at the beginning of this thread. My question wasn't about the two examples I offered, it was really about narrative voice. I'm of the belief that people adopt the words and speech patterns of the people they most often have contact with. My protagonist in my current WIP is a former high school English teacher. I'm certain he's aware of most grammar rules; however, with his interior monologue how informal and heedless of the rules can I make him without readers questioning, "This guy was supposed to have been an English teacher? I don't buy that."

    Going beyond that, I have the same question about an omniscient narrator who is unknown. To a degree it depends on if you're writing about Huck Finn's Missouri, Faulkner's south, or a university setting -- I know that. I was only hoping for other writers' input. Again, thanks!!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Tinman View Post
    Thanks, Jay. Curious though, have you ever written a novel in omniscient?
    No.

  9. #9
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    If it's first person, and the narrator is an English teacher, I would expect good, clean, and correct writing. I would expect the narrator to be fairly fastidious about his writing. That said, I don't think most readers would give two beans about your correct and incorrect examples and would understand the meaning perfectly either way. If the narration is in a conversational voice, then some "incorrectness" is perfectly allowable, in my opinion, because that voice borders on dialogue. Just as long as it's consistent, fine. Don't write the narrator as a fairly refined English teacher in one section and a vulgar peckerwood in another.

    Omniscient narration is different. In that case, my general rule (there are always exceptions) is that the narration should be as unobtrusive, clean, and minimal as possible. The reader should detect no real personality in the narration. The word choice, style, and tone should not reveal gender, race, or bias from the narrator. When you read good omniscient narration, typically you cannot tell whether it's a man or woman, black or white, etc. It's just an Everyman describing to the reader only what's necessary, to paint a setting and an atmosphere, so the reader can see it and feel it. The narrator never intrudes or comments on what is; he simply describes it. That's what I shoot for. An omniscient narrator's job is to be invisible and stay out of the way of the story as much as possible.

    Again, that's typical, not a hard rule. I just watched A Series of Unfortunate Events. The narrator intrudes and comments several times in that movie.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 01-02-2017 at 05:19 PM.

  10. #10
    Junior Member mightypipe's Avatar
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    In my stories, the narrator is always a potential character.


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