Really Close Third Person Raises Questions of Personal Style

So, as you know, I’ve been working on Black Dog novellas recently. The one I’ve just finished — mostly finished — I’m going to go back and change a few details that impact the ending — ANYWAY, it’s from Thaddeus’ point of view.

Now, obviously, Thaddeus is not, for example, Grayson. Or Ethan. He doesn’t speak in the same way at all, which extends to his direct thoughts and, in very close third person, also to the overall style of the story.

Take a look at this:

1. Maybe Thaddeus should of expected that.

2. “You’re pretty sure your circle could of kept me out,” he observed.

3. That would of killed practically any black dog.

Now, previously, when I’ve written from Thaddeus’ point of view, I’ve used that should of / could of / would of locution. This is not a mistake. Regardless of how utterly annoying homonyms have become, this is not a mistake I would ever make. Every now and then someone contacts me and points this sort of thing out as a typo. Which is fine! I appreciate readers pointing out typos! But this is a deliberate choice.

But is it a good choice? Show of hands, please. When you see this in Thaddeus’ pov, does it sound right? I’m considering limiting this to solely dialogue and the most direct thoughts. That is, leaving it for the second example above, but not the first and maybe not the third.

Also, Thaddeus has been part of Dimilioc for just about two and a half years now. (How time flies!) I’m not sure how fast, or whether, speech patterns like this might change, but he’s been listening to people with a significantly more formal style for that long.

It would be relatively easy to alter this. Obviously it’s not practical to search for “of” in a document, but if you search for “ld of ” that takes care of that problem. I can therefore say that this “of” locution occurs eleven times in the story. I might take that back to half as many. Or I could not use “of” this way at all. Thoughts?

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10 thoughts on “Really Close Third Person Raises Questions of Personal Style”

  1. Hm. If it were me, I might change those to “should’ve,” “could’ve.” You get the same effect of slurring between the two words without setting off anyone’s typo radar. Or change it for the narration and keep it as is for the dialogue, as you mentioned.

    Regardless of what you do, I’m looking forward to reading this one! Thaddeus is one of my favorite characters, especially with the relationship he and Ethan have developed.

  2. I agree with Louise on “should’ve” which sounds practically the same (at least to my Midwestern slurring!) and conveys a level of informality without setting off the typo radar (or trying too hard to approximate phonetic dialect, always a tricky business.)

  3. In dialogue such a quirk is fine. For me it would also be okay if it was clearly his direct thought being reported in the narration, preferrably close to a bit of direct specch so his language quirks are fresh in mind and immediately recognisable. Then it works as an extra signal that this is his literal thought, without needing to put it in italics (which could be confusing, as italics are also, rarely, used to stress a word or sentence).
    If that is at all vague, ‘should’ve’ might be better, as ‘should of’ does trip my typo wire.

  4. The answer to how fast speech patterns change is . . . it depends. My mother’s from the South, but we live in the West. Most of the time she sounds pretty much Western, but whenever she talks to family back South, she suddenly lapses into y’all and twang, and it takes a while for that to go away.
    On the other hand, some people never do change, or change so deliberately and completely that you can’t tell where they came from. I think it depends on how much importance they place on those speech patterns.
    I third the idea that in dialogue ‘should of’ seems reasonable, but in description it might be a bit much.

  5. Okay, thank you all for your feedback!

    I can’t remember exactly how I handled it last time, but this time I’ll definitely limit the “should of” kind of thing to dialogue and perhaps the most direct of thoughts.

  6. The thing about “should of,” IMO, is that it’s a transliteration of “should’ve.” It’s a mistake / colloquialism that shows up only in the written word, because in the spoken word — at least in a reasonably generic American or southern accent — “should’ve” and “should of” are indistinguishable. I think “shoulda” is dialect, but “should of” is just… well, evolving American English, I guess, but I’ll read it as sloppy writing. And even though your character might write it that way, you’re not writing in first person. You’re still the one writing the book, not the character, no matter how deep the third person is. (And I’m pretty sure “transliteration” isn’t exactly the right word there, but it’s as close as I can come!)

  7. I don’t know, Sarah. I know that’s the derivation of the error, but to me, there is a quite noticeable pronunciation difference in should’ve versus should of. In the county where I live, people frequently say and write the “of” phrase, and to me it does sound different. But I’ll think about that.

  8. Kathryn McConaughy

    Should of and should’ve have a noticeable pronunciation difference for me too. I really like Thaddeus using should of / could of / would of in dialogue. I appreciate it when you can read a character’s dialogue and tell who it is even without the speech tags.

  9. Thanks, Kathryn!

    I’ve revised the story to include that usage only in actual dialogue. I’ll leave it in dialogue for Thaddeus.

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