In high school, I studied Latin, root of the Romance languages. I’ve dabbled in the study of Italian and French. My maternal grandmother was fluent in German, and I would often randomly ask her: Say something in German, grandma. I didn’t care what she said, I just wanted to hear that other language so different sounding from my native tongue(s). I’ve always loved music, and wrote songs for over a decade.
Language and words are my playground.
The sound, the rhythm. How it stops. Starts… and flows. My ears are always alert for another way of using words.
In my twenties, I immersed myself in the works produced by academic and radical feminists: Betty Friedan, Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin. They espoused a different way of viewing the world, life, experience, the father god. Hip Hop, Rap, Texting, Twitter, we’re constantly tearing down the walls of formal expression.
Destruction for destruction’s sake? No, the purpose of all this breakdown is to cut closer to the bone, to excise that which is superfluous to expression, and thus increase the bonding and connectedness of shared human experience. Tear down those walls, I say:D
What about the novel? What about the novel as art?
Dare we mangle formal/accepted/traditional usage/rules on behalf of our characters?
My latest release, The Tree Hugger, employs a dialect. The kids in the Free Territories have grown up without the benefit of any formal education. Most days, survival is at the forefront of their minds. Where would they learn proper English? Why would they care?
I know, I know, phonetic dialect is UGH! No. Oh, please, no! And yet, I’ve had readers who have loved the dialect as much as the story.
I’m currently collaborating on a paranormal romance with an author whose first language isn’t English, it’s Filipino. It’s such an honor and opportunity to work with someone who lives on the other side of the globe and experience her way of seeing the world. Our main character is a nineteen-year-old witch with a best friend whose parents are of Hispanic descent. If you’ve ever been around someone with Latin blood you know: They’re often emphatic, passionate, and emotive, never flat. After working with Billie Limpin, I've discovered the same can be said about Filipinas!?!?! (What can I say? It's infectious:D) And it seems to us, when the two young women in Cupcakes & Kisses get together, one exclamation point just won’t do!?! It just doesn’t capture the volubility of their exchanges!?!?!
I know the pleasure I experience with playing with language and dialogue—including punctuation!?!—comes from my own verbal history and the verbal gymnastics I appreciate. It feels appropriate to bring this reality to my novels.
What about you? As an author, would you ever mangle the English language on behalf of a character? As a reader, would you be offended if an author did? Are rules made to be broken? Or when it comes to proper English in novels... are the rules inviolate?