Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day Twelve-- Optimus Prime Says: "Know Thy Audience."

This is selected text from my son's new Transformers book:

"We Primes represent the entire cybertronian race, standing inviolate, incorruptible--a figurehead. We encapsulate an ideal, an archetype...."

"Despite vociferous, if duly respectful protestations from Prowl, I take Ark-32 and set course for the Muta-Gaath Nebula, and, within its far from welcoming gaseous volatility...."

Wait for the sound effects, though--surely THEY should be easy to understand. Saying them out loud SHOULD help you hear the action, right?









Uhh... yeah. Maybe not. It sucked to have to admit to my six year old that I had no idea what his Transformers book said. I turned it over to the husband who was able to translate it effectively--though with some frustration. You know--because every six to twelve year old boy knows what the term "vociferous" means. The husband walked by while I was reading it and stopped cold in his tracks, asking, "What on earth are you reading?"

Which begs the question: "If a thirty-three year old English Major doesn't understand what the book says, who were they writing this for?"

By the way, this is only the first small section of the book--the first twenty pages of a two hundred page book.

I know this subject (word choice) has come up in a few other blogs: Bane's, for example. Still, I have a question about it in regards to POV.

So, my NaNo manuscript is going well, but I'm occasionally wanting to stick in words that just may not be right. If this were a third person book, I'd have more license, I think. If you're writing a first person book from a seventeen year old's perspective, how far can you stretch the vocabulary when describing actions, attributions, giving a little back-story? In dialogue, it would be obviously stupid to start vociferously peppering my speech with complex vocabulary. (Although if Optimus Prime does it... doesn't that means it's okay?) Should the entire book have the same exact level for both thought, perceived, and spoken language?

I'm beta-ing a book for Diana that is in the first person, and I noted a word used in a description that I thought was too much for a sixteen year old, and it got me thinking about my own book. (If I'm going to be hyper-critical of anyone, it's going to be me.) BTW, Di, that's part of my reasoning for thinking the book should be shifted to third person--language constraints.

So, while this might be a rewrite thing to address, I'm still curious. If a seventeen year old wouldn't say it to the person next to them, can you still use it in non-verbal communication in a first person narrative?

Okay, I'm going to "out" Diana--which may horrify her, but it illustrates my point, and she might forgive me. The sentence that got me thinking about this started with "I demurred..." but it was this teenager mentally describing an action.

Can a sixteen year old "demure" in a first person narrative?

Can a robot vociferously toss around ten dollar words in a first person narrative meant for young boys?

On the one hand, you don't want to talk down to your audience, but there must be allowances made for your audience, right? Even with context--in a first person narrative--there are constraints, right?


Yes, I'm nitpicking, but we're all big kids, and I've crossed the 50K mark, and my middle name is "nitpick." (Thanks, Mom. Way to make my life awkward in junior high.)

As for me, I still sound vile, and it's hard to sleep at night when your lungs feel like they're drowning you. T's eyebrow wound--should have been stitched. The glue is not enough. I think it's too late to go back and have them redo it, though. Dang it! I called it too. I walked in and said, "Stitches." I got over-ruled by so-called medical professionals who are not professionals in a six year old boy with sensory issues who WILL bang his head against every available surface. T was sort of excited to tell the story at school. (Hopefully, he drops the part about it being his little five year old girlfriend. They're going to get married some day, so he might as well learn to stand up to her when she is young. She's a bossy little thing, but that's part of her charm.)

Happy Thursday, everyone. Go have some Frosting. (Wink wink, Deb.)


  1. Ugh, Wendy. Now a third of the people are going to flame my obviously inappropriate use of "demurred" in the mind of a sixteen year old, another third or going to kindly but erroneously defend me, and a final third will be forced to take some sort of political stance on the whole (hole) issue.

    For the record, I have a response in the comments of my blog to this heinous "out". It amounts to this: you are the second person to ever lay eyes on this story, and the first person was a friend who reads NR for crying out loud. Beta this for me, for the love of Pete, and save me from the poor, mismanaged story. I demure to your wise wisdom.

  2. You can use big words in a young character, just give them a reason to know them. Spelling bee champ. Avid reader. Etc. Small things can fix these, as long as they fit the character. I had a pretty ginormous vocabulary as a kid, mostly because I was a.) an avid reader/ writer and b.) a spelling bee champ. But-- if the kid isn't literary at all, or it's just not their personality, it would be best to take out the ten dollar words, I'd agree.

  3. Sorry, Diana, I could have found something equally as questionable in my story, and I've avoided like three or four words just since then by thinking "is this allowed?" Yours was just marked and easy to find. I'm trying to think of one I caught in a reread last night that I waffled on. It was in a description in Asher's head while he was talking to his brother. I might have dumped it just because I couldn't decide because I'm not seeing it. Dang it! I'd swap it out as an example because it was just as "hmm" in my opinion. Anyway, I don't think anyone will take a political stance on this, but that would be super cool if they did.

    BTW, demurred is really more of a three or four dollar word, and you did say that later you find out your MC is really older than she appears, so I might have gone back and removed that comment possibly.

    L.T. I agree completely on ten dollar words, but what about the five dollar words? Do you think a voice should be a voice straight across the board in a first person narrative for YA?

  4. I'm honored to be mentioned in your blog, Wendy. Even if it is in an illustration of what not to do. Don't be like Diana, let me show you why. I know you can hear my tongue in cheekiness, it's the Followers who might take me seriously, so for them I clarify: Wendy and I share the same brain so it's cool people! I promise!

    I agree on the dollar value of demurred, unless the kid is using it out loud in a sarcastic way. That cheapens it considerably. My MC use was internal, which means she was using it with her own self... not likely or very believable. Poor, neglected, unedited manuscript. If it only had a beta...

  5. My thought on using big words in 1st person narritive is that it can be acceptable, but mostly if it is done in a storytelling manner from when the narrator is older and wiser. have you ever seen "Stand By Me" (based on the book by Steven King) Richard Dryfus narrates the story as an adult version of the child in the story. Come to think of it, "Big Fish" does the same sort of thing in the beginning as I recall.

  6. My ms is first person too and I basically consider all then non-dialogue (observations, thoughts) to be happening in my MC's head (because they are), so I don't use words that she wouldn't say. I'm not sure this comment makes sense but then I have been up since 5am...

  7. Diana, I'd like the brain back when I'm done being sick.

    The wonderful husband, I haven't seen Stand By Me because it's sad, and you know my policy on that. It's been forever since we've seen Big Fish. I know the Christmas Story did that, though. As far as books go, I think Odd Thomas's voice in the books is slightly more mature in retelling the narrative than his "dialogue" voice, but I can't remember if all the books are told as epistolary. I would guess an epistolary would allow for larger words also.

    (BTW, the husband and I have these kind of hot and sexy conversations all the time at home too.)

    Oh... hey... is the Speed of Dark first person? If it is, I'm curious if there is a voice change at the end.

    Wow. This makes me feel like a writing geek. (Who cares about the plot or characters--does the POV voice change between dialogue and exposition?)

  8. Agree with the Husband. Big words are fine if the book is told from an adult's POV looking back. My story is definitely not in that category. I was trying to write everything from a sixteen-year-old's POV. But really, that is so not the half of what's wrong with that book. As you, poor Wendy, are getting to experience. The question isn't, "Should I change this story from first person to third person?" It's, "Should I BOTHER changing this story." Nasty, unmarketable plotline. Ah well, ideas are plentiful. Onto the next one.

  9. LOL. Okay, I'm a bad one to ask about this because I've been criticized about my ridiculous vocabulary since I was a kid. People used to ask my mom if I was 4 or 40 and if they quizzed me on vocab (which they didn't). I just use big words. Not all the time, but yeah, I've been known to drop bombshells like "quintessential" in 7th grade papers so if the character is at all like me, I could totally see "demurred" being allowed. BUT...I'm weird. I doubt the character is like me (and if she is, that's a scary, scary thought) so it's probably not a good idea.

    But for Diana, who is handling her "outing" very bravely, all I can say is don't worry, we all have something in our drafts our CP's find and go, "Um...yeah...no!" I just got back a chunk of 50 pages from a CP and wow did I have a lot of those I'm still taking deep breaths before I can tackle her notes. It's the reason we need to edit!

  10. I hope you went to sleep Jade.

    Diana is fishing for compliments. As her official beta buddy, I can tell you that her writing in manuscripts is like her writing online--entertaining.

    Shannon, wow... fifty pages? That would be so daunting to me. Although I'll take fifty pages over a personal conversation about edits. I don't take criticism in person at all well. I've asked all critiques to appear via email so that I don't have to pretend to be happy to be criticized. Wow. Fifty pages. Hopefully some of that was positive critique.

  11. I write in third person, but even then I'm careful to stay in character and in the time period. The latter is most important to me since I'm writing a story from 4,000 years ago, but I think the general rule still applies- if the character wouldn't have thought/talked that way there's probably a better word to use.

  12. That's why I like 3rd person POV I can use all the big words I want and only use the words that character would use in the dialogue.
    I've been working on a short story that is written in the POV of a 10 year old though -- do you think a 10 year old would use words like - reciprocate, manic, stifling and idyllic?

  13. Yep. 50 pages. And she's a paid critiquer too (I'm bringing in the big guns to whip this draft into shape before a writing conference I'm attending). I survived her critique of my first 25, so I decided to send her another chunk and it's...stressful. She's good, and she definitely has a lot of good to say. But...I need a lot of work too, and she has no problem pointing that out. (I found her through the query workshop she hosts every other month. She really liked my project's concept and had some good ideas so I decided to try her critique and WOW. Helpful and painful and good and well...critiques are never fun. if you ever want her info, let me know, query workshop is $40, 25 page reviews are $30)

  14. Stephanie, I'd have a terrible time with anything historical, I suspect--but it would definitely be vital to know what might and wouldn't be said.

    Mary, I don't know on some of those, but my kids are still younger than that. Manic--maybe, but I'd guess not on idyllic. I have no idea on the other two.

    Shannon, so she reviews 25 pages for $30 I'm assuming--not that you receive a 25 page review for $30. Did you have her do your entire WIP? or a portion?

  15. Yes, sorry, that was confusing. It costs $30 to have her critique a chunk of $25 pages (any 25 pages you want), or she can do the whole manuscript for a quote (I think it's about $1.20 a page). I decided to do my draft in pieces, that way I could take her notes and apply them to the next batch before buying another chunk (in theory I'll start to learn something and get less notes by the end. IN THEORY) I thought her prices were pretty good and so far she's been spot on with her critique (though she's tough, so you have to be prepared for that). If you want her info, drop me an email: packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com. :)

  16. Wow, I missed some heavy discussions today. So, my two cents ain't gonna matter. But, I'll throw it in there anyway.
    Frosting...love it. *wink* I think it should actually be FROSTING,though.
    The language use relative to a 16 yr old in first person POV is definitely difficult. I am struggling with this very issue. NO, you cannot use big googly words that a normal 16 yr old wouldn't use. I have been called out on this one from my critique partners!!! It's not realistic. Period. Unless, as has been pointed out here earlier, the character is now an adult and is remembering, blah blah.
    This is tough, as I don't hang out with 16 yr olds anymore. I am trusting on my 14 yr old niece to be an unofficial beta.

  17. I'm still laughing at the Transformer's excerpt. Diana has NOTHING to worry about. Demurred seems trivial compared to "within its far from welcoming gaseous volatility...."

  18. Deb, I hear you. I don't hang out with the YA crowd either, so I'm hoping my teenage beta calls me on things that seem "off."

    Catherine, I KNOW, right? I can't believe you're the first person to mention the horror that is this book we bought for my six year old.

    Shannon, thanks! You're a doll!

  19. Wendy, knowing/determining your audience is one of the hardest things for me (though I'm getting better and I'm definitely better than the Primes book ;)... I don't have any YA/MG acquaintances, so, yeah, sometimes it's hard to know if what I'm writing is too high, too low, or on target...I think the biggest word I use in my most recent WIP is scrutinize... kind of makes me sad, but also lets me know that I'm at least listening to the voices in my head telling me to get it under control :)

  20. Just make sure you're only listening to those voices in your head, Bane. ;)