Kill Your Darlings, Part IV: Debasing Your Language

Understanding Writer Lingo

The diction used in writing is connected to point of view, that is, the point of view of the character from which each chapter is written.

I alternate POV characters in my novel, DEAD GODS, where there’s first a male character then a female using Indirect Interior Monologue (IIM) as noted in my previous post. Even though this is written in the third-person POV, I still attempt to restrict my diction to that character’s disposition, education, and outlook.

To review, in IIM the writer uses third-person pronouns but in diction the POV character would use. In this style of narrative, the third-person pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) could nearly or completely be changed to first-person pronouns (I or me), and the narrative would still make sense.

For example, I could write something from the perspective of a US sailor: “The desert sun burned the concrete flight deck. Jake hated it—the sun, the heat, and the exhaust of the F-14s idling on the deck where uniformed kids felt the crotch-diggin’ Tom Cruise dream of turnin’ and burnin’. Jake wasn’t a man. He was a kid. A kid with a stripe that told him he’d pay for the mistakes he knew he’d make.”

That’s IIM.

Direct Interior Monologue (DIM) would be to change that to first-person pronouns: “The desert sun burned the concrete flight deck. I hated it—the sun, the heat, and the exhaust of the F-14s idling on the deck where uniformed kids felt the crotch-diggin’ Tom Cruise dream of turnin’ and burnin’. I wasn’t a man. I was a kid. A kid with a stripe that told me I’d pay for the mistakes I knew I’d make.”

I’m not one for first-person pronouns. I like the distance of third-person pronouns, and for me there’s suspense in the use of third-person pronouns because there’s an external narrator, which means the POV character—in this case, Jake—could die or be hurt, and the story would still continue. In first-person or DIM, killing or incapacitating the character becomes a problem because they’ve narrated the story for the entire 300 or 400 pages. There’s more to this, but I’ll save it for later.

In any case, note that the diction of both versions of Jake’s narrative don’t go beyond that of a recent high school grad. Instead of “crotch-diggin’” I could have used “macho” or “cocky” or “masculine” or “testosterone-infused” or worse yet, “virile” or “chauvinist.” Virile Tom Cruise dream? I don’t buy it. That’s not this character’s voice. He wouldn’t use “virile” or “chauvinist” because he’s a kid who connects to something blunt.

This is debasing language to match the POV character.

As I ended my last post, this establishes author credibility and creates a believable narrative where the reader trusts the author. If the author is clearly visible in the narrative, that immersion—that cathartic response—in the story and world will be broken, and the reader will become aware of the words on the page.

Author: Chuck Lang

Chuck Lang is a writer of science fiction and horror. Influenced by his years as a carpenter, four years serving in the US Navy, and his fifteen years teaching literature, he holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Lindenwood University. After completing his first manuscript, the supernatural horror novel DEAD GODS, in 2019, he has begun work on its two sequels, DEAD GODS: INHERITANCE and DEAD GODS: RESOLUTION. He is currently developing two additional projects, an urban fantasy horror novel and a military science fiction novel. He lives and writes near the frequently flooded Red River in Fargo, ND with his wife and two redhead sons.

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