dumbing down even the punctuation
That title is unfair. It’s probably just click bait, but whatever.
I think I’ve mentioned here before that as my Fathers and Sons stories evolve, I’m learning more about each character. (It’s as though they really exist out there in some imaginary reality and I am slowly getting more glimpses of their inner lives, but I realize it’s really that the needs of the plot are directing their subconscious development in my chaotic mind.) One of the things I’ve learned about the central character, Davey, is that he is not very bright. He’s a good man. He’s honest, hardworking, loyal, loving, and wants to do the right thing all the time, but he’s one of life’s “C” students. He’s never going to see the nuances that his much brighter son and wife do, and he’s slowly coming to understand and accept this. He is supposed to be just an average guy, very accessible, very relatable, very likeable.
As a result, I find myself rewriting much of his dialog and introspective bits to make them less articulate and insightful, more prosaic. I recently had the opportunity to review the very first Fathers and Sons story I’d written, “The Death of Superman”, to prepare it for submission to a magazine for consideration. (I revisit that particular story a lot because it’s where this whole cycle sprung from. That was supposed to be a one-off piece; I never expected the characters to leap from the page and grab me by the throat.)
What I found in my most recent pass through was that as I was bringing the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and character-expressed insights down a notch or two, I wondered if Davey would use semicolons in his speech.
Isn’t that a strange thought?
I try to use semicolons in my stories, in part because they are a useful bit of punctuation, but mostly because I read some puffed up know-it-all say that semicolons are archaic and confusing to modern readers (who, he seemed to think, need their writing dumbed way down). Plus, semicolons lend themselves to the conversational style most of my story narrators use. (If you search way back in this humble blog, you’ll find my rants about how you should treat your narrator as another character of your story, with a background and style at least as well developed as the characters the story itself is about. Does that make me seem like a puffed up know-it-all?)
And so when I found some semicolons in Davey’s narrative — “The Death of Superman” is told in first person — I paused and wondered if I should take them out. They seemed too “sophisticated” for this average guy. Raise your hand if you think about proper punctuation for your thoughts and utterances. I know I don’t. I just let the blather fly without a thought to how I would punctuate any of it. And so, I realized, I was being a little nuts trying to clean up the punctuation of Davey’s internal monologue. I’m reminded of this offering from the late, lamented Boggleton Drive comic.
So I submitted the story over the weekend and got the automated thank-you response, telling me the editors hope to respond within 90 days. That’s certainly better than the 512 days it’s taken another publication (so far) to respond. (I’m guessing that one wasn’t accepted, which is just as well since I hadn’t dumbed down the narrative nearly enuf on that draft back in those days.)