As I reported in my previous post, while visiting my mother in the hospital we watched the HGTV channel. On mute. Closed caption. For days on end. That’s when I realized that hardly anyone says “going to” anymore. Nope. It’s morphed into gonna. “You’re gonna love it.” “I’m gonna do my best to get you to stay.”
Reading “gonna…gonna…gonna” on the television screen grated on my nerves, especially as it was predominantly said by the hosts of the program and not the regular Jane and Joe Schmoe’s (like me) who were having their homes redecorated (unlike me). Possibly the hosts should be required to take diction lessons.
This is an example of “pronunciation spelling,” defined in the dictionary app on my phone as: a spelling intended to match a certain pronunciation more closely than the traditional spelling does, as gonna for going to, kinda for kind of (meaning “rather”), git for get, or lite for light. (Do not confuse this with “spelling pronunciation,” in which, according to Wikipedia, a word is pronounced “according to its spelling, at odds with standard or traditional pronunciation.”)
And then there is “eye dialect,” the definition taken again from my phone app: the literary use of misspellings that are intended to convey a speaker’s lack of education or use of humorously dialectal pronunciations but that are actually no more than respellings of standard pronunciations, as wimmin for “women,” wuz for “was,” and peepul for people.
As a writer, when writing dialogue I’ve faced the dilemma of writing it as the character would say it (New England Yankee, for example) or as they should say it. As a reader, I find it annoying to read a constant stream of dialect. (I won’t bore you with the definition of dialect.) I am satisfied if it is used sparingly as a reminder that the character is Southern, for instance, or if it is used consistently when the character is introduced and then switched to normal speech. In that instance, I will remember that the character has a specific speech pattern.
This is not to say that my speech is perfect. Far from it. When I travel abroad this summer I wonder if my own use of “gonna” and “kinda” and the absence of a “g” on the end of my gerunds and present participles will cause confusion on the part of the Europeans who have been educated in proper English–and probably use it.
My mother has been in the ICU for eleven days now following heart surgery. I’ve visited her every day; sitting in a hospital room watching a muted television stuck on the HGTV channel has not inspired me to write fiction. Reading–I have done a fair amount of that. Of squiggly lines and numbers, not words, a constant stream of changing numbers that I struggle to interpret.
The writing I’ve produced has been non-fiction, texts updating my family on my mother’s condition and progress, answering questions, explaining things that I don’t understand in a reassuring way that won’t set off any alarms. I try to wring the emotion out of my electronic updates using simple words and, often, emoji. (A picture is worth a thousand words, and I love my emoji.)
I don’t report when my mother moans, talks in her sleep, or the look on her face when she is awake and uncomfortable, tired, depressed, discouraged. A moan from my mother is more revealing than when she verbalizes that she is uncomfortable. A moan is just one sound yet I know immediately that there’s a problem. I don’t include that in my family updates, other than to report the extent of her pain, but as a fiction writer the opposite is true. I must convey pain through “showing not telling”.
I would like to work on that in my fiction writing: increase showing and decrease telling. Instead of saying “I’m tired of the drive to the hospital,” I could say “I feel like putting my head down on the steering wheel and going to sleep.” (If my daughters read that, I imagine I will generate a flurry of texts among them concerned about my well-being.) My intent is to convey weariness not tiredness. As a writer, my job is to insure that my writing is interpreted correctly—whether by my daughters or my readers.
I aim for clarity and brevity in my writing. Yet fiction writing is improved through the use of metaphors, similes, analogies, and emotion. In the above example, I would use “weary” in my family text, if at all, but in my fiction writing I would incorporate the steering wheel.
Writers glean writing material from every experience, whether through an overheard conversation between two nurses in the ICU or observing a frustrated woman help her elderly mother navigate the security line at an airport. Most of us can’t resist recording these tidbits so we can refer to them when needed. Some writers carry tiny notebooks. I prefer to record them in my phone. It’s always with me and less conspicuous. Who knows? I could be typing a text response to my daughters: “No, I am not suicidal.”