Challenge 493 Response
Talk Like One
with Cheryl W. Ruggiero
In Challenge 493: The narrator recounts an experience he had when he was ten years old. Should he talk like a ten-year old?
I like your question on “Ridge World” about whether the narrator should talk like a ten-year-old, since it's a ten-year-old’s experience.
I think with a child character it can go either way. If the writer wants to make use of the child’s innocence or limited experience to work some irony against the reader’s knowledge of what the child does not know, then yes, the experience of a child should be narrated in a child’s voice.
But if, as in this case, the narrator is remembering the story as an adult, then the writer needs the adult’s voice to make comments like “but what did I know then?” Some nice humor and irony can be created this way, too. Either way works; the effects are different.
Thank you, Cheryl! Good food for thought, there, with lots of nuances. It’s the sort of thing all fiction writers have to take into consideration.
Even if none of the characters in a story is a child, all the characters must speak in ways that distinguish them. Each may have a slight quirk, or turn of phrase, or mannerism. The “markers” will be inconsequential in themselves, but they’re a great help to readers.
It’s the same as with actors on stage: the audience can more easily keep track of who’s speaking if each actor wears a different costume than if they’re all dressed — and speak — the same.
To answer my own question: It all depends on who’s speaking.
- If the narrator is a ten-year old, he or she ought to talk like one.
If the narrator is an adult and recalling conversations he had as a ten-year old, he must recall those conversations in an adult voice, otherwise he’ll just sound a little... stupid, as though he’s mocking himself.
A workaround: insert carefully delineated flashbacks and scene changes to allow readers to see and hear the narrator as a ten-year old.
And all that raises another question: How does a ten-year old talk? Normally in simple sentences with simple words. “Can I have a cookie?” he asked, pointing at the jar. But “I deem it imperative that I partake of a confection in yon container” might be said in a truly bewildering story by a decidedly weird ten-year old.
Copyright © 2012 by Cheryl W. Ruggero
and Bewildering Stories