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10.22.2008

Pa! Bring 'dat 'dere lingo!

We read "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor's ode to violence, in literature class yesterday. As part of the discussion, I read a few passages from a letter that O'Connor presented as part of a lecture to a group of students at Hollins College.

I'm paraphrasing, but in the letter she mentions that the capacity to commit violent acts against others is one of the truest qualities we possess. She writes that moments of senseless, explicit violence reveal our truest, most authentic selves more than almost anything else in life.

That's no epiphany, of course. O'Connor's sentiment forms the narrative essence of Fight Club. It's there in Faulkner's work--in Carver's work.

But her thoughts on the subject were interesting and certainly worth getting a look at if you're working on a piece that has violence at its center (in terms of theme, and not mere plotting).

But actually, I'm writing this post about replicating authentic dialogue. In O'Connor's story, the antagonist is a murderer called "The Misfit." He waxes philosophical in a couple of sections and O'Connor paints him with some broad linguistic strokes:

"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man burnt alive oncet," and he looked up at the children's mother and the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; "I even seen a woman flogged," he said.

Considered a master of the Southern Gothic, O'Connor's got her phrasing down pat, but it becomes distracting in spots. I think there's a very fine line between believable and over-the-top on this subject.

Sometimes, King's folksy Maine feels spot on (Bag of Bones and "Rainy Season" come to mind), but other times it's too much ("It Grows on You" and "Home Delivery").

There are some unique speech patterns in Oregon that have found their way into my work. But, more often than not, I find myself pruning the "pert nears" and "up tos" in the revision process.

Composition theory question: How much is too much when it comes to replicating speech?

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