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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » use of colloquialisms in narrative

   
Author Topic: use of colloquialisms in narrative
Rocklover
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My question is, may one use colloquialisms in the narrative? To add "flavor", say? Or do the colloquialisms have to stay in the dialogue.
For example, if I'm writing about a small farming community, mayn't I use some colloguialisms in the descriptive narrative?
For instance: "He sat bolt upright in bed..." Where I was raised sitting "bolt upright" was the way it was said. Here's another: "They could hear the sound way out in the barn." Where I was raised, you always said "way out" not just "out." I guess what I'm asking is, can you write a narrative so it sounds like how it be expressed in that locality, or is that a big no-no?

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ChrisOwens
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I think it definitely depends on the narrator. If that's the narrator's way of speaking, absolutely.
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Survivor
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All natural language is colloquial.
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theokaluza
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You may do whatever you want to do.

Personally, I think it's a good idea. In a way, it's impossible to avoid.


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wetwilly
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You cannot use colloquialisms in the narrative. Just ask Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin, James Thurber, Eudora Welty, James Fenimore Cooper...

I'm sure they'll all agree with me.


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Rocklover
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Wow. That's an auspicious list of names on your side! But maybe I want to speak with a voice none of them had. My own voice. My own perspective. Is it not permissable to bend the rules to follow not where others have tread but my own path? If we are passing names, I think Robert Frost would back me on that one.
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Survivor
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RL, always check ww's posts for impishness.
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catnep
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Maybe it matters on whether it comes across as laziness on the author's part or as an actual narrative tone. If you did it right, I think it could read great, but if it is just here and there or not strong enough it might come across as poor writing. Does that make sense?
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Luke
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Mark Budz does a good job of this in his novels "Clade" and "Crache".

Most of the vernacular that he uses looks to me like it is Latin American in origin. Since I only speak American English, it was helpful to me that he defined most of it.

Also, he kept the narrative in regular American English -- except when he was writing from a particular character's POV.

[This message has been edited by Luke (edited February 06, 2005).]


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Lord Darkstorm
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I've seen colloquialisms used in many books. I think the main thing to remember is to use it in moderation and be consistant. I've found that books written with a bit of the characters mindset can work well.

Go for it, and if it is too much someone will let you know. Then you only need to tone it down a bit.


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Rocklover
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Thanks everyone. Points taken.

Survivor, thanks for the heads up on WW (Wascaly Wabbit).

Ok WW, you nailed me. I shall be more cautious before I take your bait next time.


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wetwilly
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As Survivor pointed out, my post above was meant sarcastically. (Why can't I just say what I mean without the sarcasm? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why...?) If you're familiar with the authors I referenced (hmm, that doesn't look like it's spelled right, but it's 3:00 a.m. and I've been studying all night), you'll notice that they are all authors who used colloquialisms very much in their writing, and found great success doing so. In fact, more than one of them has (have?) officially said that the colloquialisms are ESSENTIAL to believable literature. I certainly wouldn't go that far, but I definitely think it's acceptable to put them in your story.

Personally, I don't think I've ever used a colloquial dialect in a story, but that's because I don't have a mastery of any colloquial dialects that really stand out. If I tried to fake it, I would just look silly.


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wbriggs
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Huck Finn is all in dialect, and it may be America's greatest book.

What I usually do is put the narrative in a standard modern English with contractions, but take all the imagery from the POV's mind. I'll push it a little, but keep it standard. As in, the character might say, "I reckon it's been nigh on to twenty years since I been 'coon hunting up yonder." If I say it, I'd say, "He thought it was nearly twenty years since he'd been 'coon hunting up that way." 'Coon being the only non-standard thing, but I've never heard of "raccoon hunting."

But I do want the editor to know that *I* know standard English -- and the dialect I'm writing in.

BTW, I wouldn't call "way out in the barn" nonstandard. It's an economical way of saying it was out in the barn, and that it's remarkable that it was so far away.


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Rocklover
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Yup, I got it, WW. After Survivor made his comment, I looked at your list of names again. I hit my forehead and said, "Duh."

As for quality scarcasm, it's a talent and you pull it off better than most.

I really appreciate all the comments on this strand, everyone. I needed a little boost of confidence in what I was attempting.

Gracias Amigos


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MichelleAnn
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I think it depends on the effect you are attempting to create. There are some stories where the narration is meant to be seamless, and other stories where the narrator becomes another character in the story.

The more you want the narration to be invisible, the more you want to use proper English. Once you start using colloquialisms you are asking anyone that is not of the group that uses those terms to take notice of the narrator.

Is you narrator/narration there to add flavor to the story or just add necessary exposition?

'ChelleAnn

[This message has been edited by MichelleAnn (edited February 15, 2005).]


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