I worry about readers not catching things, thinking something I wrote is unintentional or sloppy, when it isn’t, when it’s completely intentional and required a lot of thought.
I have a character in A Long Walk who is a seventeen year black girl from a shitty neighbourhood. Throughout the book she uses a lot of poor grammar, she uses bad language, she isn’t all that well spoken – but sometimes she is. Sometimes she drops the urban vernacular and speaks much more eloquently. In fact, the way she speaks at times is almost a parody of the way black youth speak, pretty heavily exaggerated.
Here’s the thing: that’s intentional, and more meaningful than I have let on. She speaks in a more “ghetto” style when she’s feeling emotional. She’s highly intelligent, but has often faced bullying for it, so she hides that facet of herself. When she’s feeling emotional she adopts a persona, or at least delves deeper into her persona. The persona is a very stereotypical hood chick, including her language choices. I have been pretty consistent with it. When she’s feeling emotions she speaks a certain way, and when she is more relaxed it’s different.
One of my worries with this was that people wouldn’t get it, that it would look like I hadn’t given her a voice of her own, that I made her voice too varied. I decided that because it served that character well I was going to do it anyway.
Now, that character trait was one I pulled from a real person. Me in fact. I had a big vocabulary at a very young age, and got beaten up for it. I dumbed myself down, learning to speak for my audience. Even my accent changes based on my audience. If you put me in a room full of fishermen I’m going to tend to a rougher form of speech, losing the fifty cent words. I’m also going to have less crisp diction, slurring my words a little. I used to do it on purpose – now I find myself doing it and getting angry with myself for it, wishing I’d never gotten into the habit.