Mr. Smartypants’ Diction

As predicted, I finished a first draft of the story I’m writing for Fictlicious today (Tuesday night, 7pm at the Hideout!). While I lack the distance to properly evaluate it, one thing I found myself wondering about as I read it aloud is a common critique I get in my workshops: the diction outpaces the narrator. While I don’t always agree with every critique I get in a workshop (how useful is feedback when someone is supposed to be nitpicking?), I think this is often a valid critique of my work. I feel like I’m pretty good at keeping the dialogue true to my characters, but I freely admit that the narrative voice in most of my stories comes straight from the author.

I like to string a sentence together. This is how I got through college: I didn’t have many original ideas, but I presented them originally and used that talent to land a lot of solid B+/A- grades without making a big dent in my social calendar. In my fiction, though, this becomes a fine line to walk. My characters are not professors. Occasionally, they aren’t even college graduates. Why then, do their narrative voices often sound like a snooty bookworm? The simple answer is this is the author’s hand at work, and I am not an author who likes to experiment with voice. I write like I write, and that’s how it’s going to come out, and Rum Springer, the story I’ll be reading on Tuesday is no different with one exception: it’s written in 1st person plural. Since Joshua Ferris didn’t copyright that POV, I have shamelessly co-opted it for my own purposes.

In this story, the “we” is a collection of Philadelphia dive bar patrons. Blue collar slobs, as they’d be the first to admit. When I read it to my wife tonight, she asked, “Who is the philosopher narrator?” It’s a good question. The narrator isn’t any particular character presented in the story, but rather a amalgamation of all of them. In defending myself, I would suggest it’s not unreasonable to assume there’s a philosopher or an ivy league professor amongst them. And it’s a philosophical piece — I like to think there are weighty questions being posed. But at the same time, it’s certainly not a narrative voice I could get away with if the story were written in the 1st person singular. Is it justified in my story? Is it successful? We’ll see. I get to read it on Tuesday night, then I’ll post it here at some point. You tell me.

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