Monday, June 13, 2011

To delve or not to delve that is the question

The QueryShark had found herself in a bit of hot water lately over a recent evisceration. Taking a writer to task for putting the word "delved" into the dialogue of a 14 year old,  the Shark challenged thus:

Also, I'll give you a hundred bucks cold hard cash if you can produce a 14 year old who uses the word "delved" in conversation.

Well, that certainly brought a flurry of comments, most of them accompanied by a thump or two across the fin. (ow)

What I left unstated, and in fact assumed (incorrectly) would be clear was that there is a large (vast!) difference between the number and kinds of words people use in conversation, and the number and kinds of words people recognize.

In other words I know many more words than I use.  You do too.

And kids, being people, are included. So yes, they recognize 'delved' and can use it correctly in a sentence.  It doesn't mean they do so in regular conversation.

And that's the trick of dialogue. It has to sound real. I have to believe that's something a kid WOULD say. Not something a kid COULD say.

Getting dialogue and voice write is very difficult.  It can't be verbatim (have you ever heard actual surveillance tapes; or even just plain old phone messages!) but it has to feel real.

I have no idea if slingers on the corners of Baltimore sound like Bodie and Poot, but I believe them when they talk.  Even when Bodie says "I'm standing here like a asshole holding my Charles Dickens, 'cause I ain't got no muscle, no back-up" I believe.

Part of your job as writers is to know that delicate balance between what IS right and what FEELS right.  I actually keep a list of words somewhere that are gender specific: that is a man would not say "munched" for eating lunch; a woman would not generally say she's taking "a piss."  Think about it before you join the SharkBashing mob ok?

I'm pretty sure there is research on this but the closest I could come with the five minutes I spent on google was this article at Slate. (paragraph 7)

If any of you have better resources to add, I'd like to see them. And if you think I'm all wet, tell me why.


Ask a Manager said...

This is interesting. I do think there are some kids that age who do talk like that, but the problem with the query was that it didn't come across that way; it came across as an author who wasn't using language quite right for her character. If the query letter writer had painted a picture of a really precocious kid, "delved" might have seemed natural; the issue was that there wasn't really any sketch of the character at all.

Landra said...

Can't believe they wielded triton forks and everything. Janet, when you made your comment I did not take offense. In fact I agreed with the idea that the word would not be used in a 14 year-old conversation unless said 14 year-old was pronounced a genius in the query or like to use odd terms of phrase to appear more intelligent then others his or her age.
Note: I am guilty of that last bit. I would learn new 'big' words at that age just to get a 'pshaw' out of my friends.
Bottomline: Keeping chomping your holy sharkiness.

jenruss said...

I teach perfectly average fourteen-year-olds every day, and I thought the same thing when I read the query. It stuck out at me as unnatural. Now, I do have quite a few above-average kids who would use a word like "delve," but the voice of the query letter didn't remind me of any of them.

Byron said...

You're probably right on this one. The exception would be if this 14 year old character was a studious, book worm, brainy-type. They do exist, and "delve" would not be out of character. IMHO

Gary Corby said...

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Brilliant dialogue that flows like wine, and barely a word of it normal.

T.K. McEachin said...

I agree. We absolutely (most of us) know many more words than we use eveyday. We also use some words in cetain situations or environments than we use daily in everyday conversation. The point is that a 14 year old (fictional or real) wouldn't use "delve"in everyday converation as in the query...its just not realistic. Research the appropriate colloquialisms for your characters age, time/period (in history/setting),race, gender,region (I'm a southerner & we have our own phrases)...etc

Lydia Sharp said...

This is all very interesting. I did read that particular post on Query Shark but I must have missed the uproar in the comments. Yowza.

To me, word choice is more about proper tone and correct presentation of character than anything else. If a teen is a bit of a word nerd, seeing the word "delved" in their dialogue wouldn't faze me. But it didn't fit in that particular query because the correct tone for it just wasn't there. The word felt as inappropriate as a lime green dress at a funeral.

Same goes for a woman/girl saying she has to "take a piss." That wouldn't really faze me if the character was set up properly.

Just my thoughts. No fin-smacking. ;)

Josin L. McQuein said...


Too many people base "real" dialogue on what they hear on television, which, while it sounds natural on screen, isn't how people talk in real life. Books generally fall into the same speech pattern as visual media, skipping over the pauses and broken phrasing that real people use as time to collect their thoughts.

The difference between what someone actually says and what they think they say is miles apart. Take one of those transcriptions and read it back to the person who said it, and like as not they'll insist they don't speak that way.

However, kids do use "vocabulary" words if they're used to hearing them. Delved is definitely a word I would have used as even a young teen if it fit what I wanted to say, but I've always been a precise speaker. I also used words like "tainted" and "tenebrous", which made people give me strange looks. Things which I considered normal speech even adults would ask me to define because they were unusual or antiquated - such as "sanguine".

Like anything else, it's situational and dependent on character.

BJ said...

For the most part, I agree with you... but when it comes to the gender-specific words, I think there are cultural and chronological differences there, too. For instance, I have a young, very forward female friend who lives on the wrong side of the tracks, who *would* say she was taking a piss... while I know some older professional men who would never say that.

Now, if you had a young woman, maybe drunk, saying she had to take a piss, I'd believe that more than I would believe a 50-yr-old businessman saying the same thing.

If, however, you *did* have a 50-yr-old businessman saying that -- especially in polite company -- it would say something about him, about where he's from.

So yes, it's not about whether they *could* say those things, but *would* they. It's important to know what any character in any situation *would* say. In fact, that's part of their character.

Maria Mainero said...

I think that if the 14 year old in question were investigating this phenomenon, she would definitely use dramatic language like "delved" if not in casual conversation, at least in internal monologue. The desire to be taken seriously and perceived as an adult can prompt a teen to talk that way, if not among peers, certainly to adults.

Daisy Bateman said...

I think that part of the problem isn't the age, it's that very few people at all would use "delved" in conversation-- it just isn't that much in common use in spoken language. Which only matters because the query was written in the first person; if it had been in third I don't think it would have been nearly as noticeable.

Carrie Butler said...

Ah, hell. There’s blood in the water. Someone’s roused the Great-Write-Shark’s ire again. *Sigh* Oh well. I guess there’ll always be the adventurous types. ;)
I agree. There’s a big difference between recognizing a word and using it in natural conversation. We can’t assume this case is an exception, without more character information. In the meantime, let’s take Ms. Reid's advice at face value and not split hairs.

Elizabeth Michels said...

To be honest, I stumbled over the same word when I read that query. I then chuckled when the shark agreed with me. Is it wrong that I laugh at some of the shark bait from time to time? I hope not. A writer's got to stay sane somehow, right? Keep swimming. Keep biting.

Anonymous said...

A little late to the party already, but I think the "delved" problem encapsulates the ancient conflict between two of those vaunted Rules for Writers hammered out in cuneiform so long ago, these being:

1) DO develop a consistant and realistic voice.

2) DO NOT talk down to your audience.

Therefore, a fourteen-year-old using the D word upholds the second principle while honoring the first if words like "delved" are consistant with the other language and general tone of the writing. If not, the language reflective of the second principal sounds stilted and unnatural, the first principle is violated, beachgoers are forced to avoid the water in response to an increased number of violent shark attacks, and everyone is generally unhappy.

Anyway, that's what I think.


R.C. Lewis said...

I experience the difference between recognizing words and actually using them every day. ASL is my students' first language; it's my second. Certain signs (especially idiomatic ones) fit this situation for me. I completely understand when my students use them, but I know I can't use them myself (yet).

And I agree on the "delve." It felt out of place to me, and with the day job, I spend more time conversing with teens than adults.

Laurel said...

It isn't so much that a fourteen year old used the word "delved' as that it didn't sound like it fit in the query. Maybe it fits in the MS. I could totally see Artemis Fowl using that word and I wouldn't think twice about it. It's how he talks. The backdrop has to give us a clue, though, that we're dealing with a kid who talks like that.

B. E. Hopkins said...

To me, the problem is a snake that eats its own tail. I wouldn't expect a fourteen-year-old to have written a book to begin with (and first-person narration, unless it's stream of consciousness or internal monologue, at least implies she did). However, if a young narrator did write the book, I would want her to be the sort of kid who's well read enough to know the word "delve."

This point of view problem is typical in first-person narratives, YA or adult. Salinger solves it by giving Holden Caulfield a reason to write (he's forced to) and by creating a believably annoying teenage voice. Much of the commercial fiction I edit, however, is narrated by characters who simply aren't "literary" enough to have strung together 100,000 words--and yet the author has done so, supposedly in that character's voice.

In some cases, of course, we as readers suspend our disbelief and accept that the book somehow magically exists. (We never question how Benjy's part of story got to be included in The Sound and the Fury.) But often the fictive illusion is ruined by the author's having chosen a narrator who is incapable of telling the story competently.

POV is the most important decision a writer makes before plotting a story: it determines every scene, every bit of exposition and characterization. Many a mediocre first-person novel could be better in the third-person, precisely because an omniscient narrator would allow the author to use verbal skills she possesses that her characters do not (and perhaps should not).

Rebecca Christiansen said...

I totally agree with you. Even if a kid could say "I don't want to delve into it," saying "I don't want to get into it" makes so much more sense realistically.

Nicole Nelson said...

Relevant research has been done in socio-linguistics (not my specialty, but I do have a PhD in theoretical linguistics). The problem with the query that you (and several commenters) touched on is one of "register." Register is an aspect of conversation that relates largely to word choice. In the query, in one sentence the 14-year-old uses the very informal phrase "messing with me," and then uses the much more formal and sophisticated "delve" in the next sentence. The inconsistent register is the culprit that causes the distracting speed bump.

As far as I'm concerned, your hundred dollars are safe! Stay sharkly.

jesse said...

I was with you on the use of delve: it didn't feel right. Maybe some 14-year-olds use the word, but it is uncommon, and most readers would notice. This doesn't mean that a character has to adhere to convention, quite the contrary really. However, illustrating a character's "unconventionality" is an uphill battle in a query, and that specific query failed to do so, at least in a manor that made the use of delve feel justified.

Anonymous said...

I would accept 'delve' from a character in a novel, assuming the word choice fits in with the character (who may be the snooty intellectual type who would use a word like this in ordinary conversation, or who may be a character adopting that tone of voice to make a point, etc.).

The big difference here is that 'delve' was used in a query, where it clearly doesn't reflect the character's voice, only the author's.

Sasha Barin said...

I don't think I've heard even an adult use this word in real life. I can't even imagine a situation it would be used in, unless it was with a sarcastic-dramatic tone, e.g.:

"So I delved into Mr. Bob's vacation spending records, sniffed up the trail and followed it to the five dollars and sixty cents petty cash discrepancy!"

And then Mr. Bob shows up:
"Yo bitch, why you delving into my shit?"

Seriously, "delved", 14 y/o?

jen said...

I never read the comments on QS because I get so irked that people often harp on the concept of the novel rather than whether the query works, so I had no idea you'd caused such an uproar, Janet.

The problem with a 14 yo character using delve is that she doesn't sound like a 14 yo anymore and readers can't suspend their disbelief or feel connected to that character. Regardless of the fact that there are 14 yo's out there who might use that word, and even if your character is a genius or a word nerd, they still are not going to be believable as a 14 yo. They are going to come across as older. And, yes, some real-life 14 yo's come across as older, that's fine. But in a novel, if your character is a certain age, they need to be believable that they are indeed that age. Believability is the key.

Someone brought up Artemis Fowl. Who seriously believes this is a twelve year old when they read it? He's not believable as a twelve year old, no matter how enjoyable the book is. He still doesn't come across as the age he's supposed to be.

And that's the problem with a 14 yo character using delve.

Dawn Buthorn said...

I agree. I have a 16 year old daughter who has never uttered the word "delved" unless it was on a vocabulary test. She knows the word and the meaning, but would never use it unless she was trying to impress a teacher. However, there might be another 16 year old girl who would use that word. I think it depends on the character--look at Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Her character uses language that would not be appropriate for another character, but for her it's believable. I think the trick to voice is using words specific to him/her, and that's what makes it believable.

BP said...

Even as a promoter of the dying literary excellence once found in children's literature, I see nothing wrong with the point you made and agreed; Whether we know 14-year-old geniuses or no, the wide vast world of them are not the brightest bulbs in the 21st century (sorry, ouch, I'll say the same thing for YA's my age, too!). That being said, it IS the beauty of the art to transcend gender, time, age, etc. and write something that's relevant and real, and it's an art that's too often forgotten. Kudos to you!

Lance Albury said...

I like what B. E. Hopkins posted. I'll add to it.

The POV Nazis can be utterly annoying when it comes to word choice. Look, readers must suspend beliefs and ignore facts to get through a novel. Like B. E. said, no 14-year-old is going to write a book to begin with, and nobody I know wants to read 80,000 words of their internal thoughts, especially if the character is government educated.

The author has to use words characters might not use in everyday life. But that's okay--a novel isn't reality, just an appearance of it.

The bigger point in all this is the query WAS interesting, but all the Shark said was "This doesn't work at all. Start over." Sorry, that doesn't cut it. The author deserves better than that.

Jane Lebak said...

Here's what I've noted in myself and my oldest two children (a sampling of voracious readers):

There's a certain age where children who read incessantly have been exposed to a far greater vocabulary in books than they ever have in real life. At the same time, they're getting lists of vocabulary words thrown at them every week at school and told "use this in a sentence."

The result is that a precocious reader CAN use these complicated words and WILL use these complicated words in everyday conversation because the child lacks the experience to know most people don't use these words.

The dead giveaway is when the kids pronounce the words as written rather than as they should be pronounced: they've only "heard" them in their head. So "anonymity" pronounced "a-NON-imity" or "unique" as "un-ickew."

The precocious readers will settle down in the next few years as they pick up the vernacular and understand the difference between written English and spoken English. But from ages eight to 12, precocious readers will have an English-professor's vocabulary.

leegomez said...

I agree that the delve seems too formal or grownup. If you're going to still believe in imaginary friends, you probably won't delve into their pasts (more so than 'check it out')...JMO.

Fin slap for QS. :)

B. E. Hopkins said...

Why are some of the commenters here treating "delve" as though it were some kind of archaic, "snooty intellectual," or mystifying vocabulary word? It may or may not fit the register of a fourteen-year-old narrator, but a middle or high school reader should definitely know it. It's a commonplace word used regularly in newspapers written at a grade school reading level. You don't need to be a genius or word nerd to have a strong vocabulary.

@Lance: It's not that a fourteen-year-old can't write a book, but more that one who would is the type we can expect to be well read. In fact, teenagers do write books. Anne Frank was murdered when she was only fifteen, and she'd been writing for two years. Christopher Paolini drafted Eragon when he was only fifteen. But they were both more literate than other teenagers who somehow manage to get through school without learning the word "delve."

MNye said...

Dialogue is the hardest thing to get right for me, it is getting into the characters head.

Jo Bourne said...

What we got here is an unhappy hybrid between business letter and character voice.

Essentially, the 14-year-old protagonist has been dragged on stage, propped behind the microphone, and told to talk through the fourth wall.

Because this is a 'set speech' delivered to an audience, it has a different register than ordinary dialog. So formal vocabulary is okay.

But the 'I am a teenager making a formal-yet-chatty speech to adults' is a bloody difficult trick to pull off in a manuscript. It's almost impossible to do convincingly in 300 words, when the character is pulled from his natural environment and the language is stripped clean of all descriptive signals.

The danger of inserting your character into a query is that it doesn't work well as a business letter; it requires an exigent piece of character voicing; and it can, in the worst case, come across as 'precious'.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you got beaten up over that, because I thought that comment in particular was spot on. Lots of 14-year-olds *know* the word delve, but I just don't see any of them using it in conversation. Heck, I'm 40 and I don't think I've ever used that when speaking.

Stephanie Barr said...

It is a challenge for me, largely because, as a teenager, I spoke like that and worse. My parents had far above average vocabularies and I read vociferously (I do use that kind of word everyday) from a young age.

As my sixteen-year-old daughter explains, I was not a "regular" teenager by any means. On the other hand, having been exposed to me all her life, she also uses words like delved and irked and the like every day, just with improper grammar. (I now have a whole phalanx of intimates and friends stuck using "irksome" routinely. I'm contagious.)

Such language is "normal" for me and for her, even if it isn't for regular kids her age.

This can provide an opportunity, however, by providing contrast between characters of a similar age. Do I usually have at least one character that speaks as I do (in complete sentences with frightening logic and vocabulary)? Yes. You can bet they are extraordinary (something frequently found in my stories). Contrast them with teens using more informal sentence structure and less refined vocabulary, more emotional responses and less subtlety, I can readily distinguish between characters and who they are, almost effortlessly.

However, that can only work if I pay attention to what's "normal" and what isn't, as I do with my daughter and her friends.

Unknown said...

I think I'm pretty much in agreement with most of the other comments. When I was 14 I did use words like "delved" in normal conversation, but I did, and continue to, read voraciously - so obviously I'm not the norm. The query made the kid sound normal. I can't say many other kids in my grade who were/are "normal" would use that word.

Anonymous said...

First off, I know no 14 year old who would use delve. Honestly, how many adults use it in casual conversation? I love writing dialogue. The moment you get it right is downright thrilling. For years, I worked as a psychotherapist. I got good at listening to what people say and what they hold back. Creating dread is where I need to clock more hours, but that is for another post.

Zee Lemke said...

Using big words and complex sentence structure in speech (rather than writing) is more complicated than just knowing the words. To be understood when speaking, you have to use the words and structures your interlocutor expects. We don't really pronounce most of our words. We depend on people who speak our language to be used to the ordinary sentences we use. I was one of those teenagers, like Stephanie up there, who used words that were "too big." I still sometimes catch myself trying to be witty by saying something unexpected--and it doesn't work, not because the joke is bad, but because in most circumstances no one is listening for it and all I'll get is a "what?" Go watch an unfamiliar Gilbert and Sullivan play. Then read the libretto. How many "Oh, THAT'S what that was!" moments?

Some genius kids stop using writing-level words when speaking because speaking-level words are more functional. The determining factor is social awareness, not vocabulary. If your kid has asperger's or is even just awkward, their narration of social facts is going to reflect the same difficulties as their vocabulary.

Shannon Heather said...

An awesome author, Allison Brennan, suggested an awesome book, Self-Editing For Fiction Writers. I immediately downloaded it onto my Nook and devoured it in 2 days, notes and all.

This book is helpful in a million different ways, but for this topic it has a lot of information on voice. How does voice have anything to do with "delved" you ask? Well, it might just be me, but you don't want word choice to halt the voice in the MS. Where ever the voice stops is where the reader stops.

So, if "delved" enriches the voice in your MS, use it. But, if you find yourself tripping over it or others trip over it, use something else.

There are far too many juicy words waiting to be used to haggle over one.

B. E. Hopkins said...

@Zee, you are definitely correct needing to be able to use the words that our audience expects. (David Foster Wallace wrote a well-known piece on this called "Tense Present.") It would be silly to use "delve" in the context that Sasha Barin suggests above, because that type of person really wouldn't use such a specific word in conversation. This is exactly what Nicole meant by "register."

But that's the difference between narration and dialogue, isn't it? Dialogue should reflect the speech patterns of real people, and it is usually full of misuses and grammatical answers. But narration can be more literary. (I usually feel it calls less attention to itself when it is, especially in the third-person.) And often it's a good idea for a writer to choose someone more literate as a narrator, so that he is capable of telling the story.

It would have been a disaster if Fitzgerald had chosen Gatsby as his narrator. He's not literate enough to tell the tale in the finely wrought way that Nick Carraway can (and of course he is unable to see his own tragic flaws). The narrator needs at least to be smart enough to make sense of the emotional reality of the story and report on all levels of character interaction. (Of course, his own blind spots are always interesting, too.)

Unless the story genuinely requires it (as in a story where the character's verbal limitations are in themselves of interest--e.g., Huck Finn), there is little reason to choose a narrator who is limited to everyday spoken English.

JS said...

Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to be more believable than truth.

In the context of the whole book, it may be very believable that the 14-year-old protagonist would use "delve" as a matter of course; we may get to see her as a lover of 19th century English novels, for instance. But asking someone to suspend their disbelief about a fictional character with nothing to support that is a bit too much.

Lance Albury said...

Another reason the critique of the word "delve" annoys me is that what you're suggesting is that all characters must be the same, must act their age, must conform to your perception of normal.

In the next breath, you'll tell writers they must create unique characters who do the extraordinary, who excel in areas above others, who aren't cliche.

It's double-talk at best. Take a step back and think about your criticism. Is it really necessary? Is it?

If I'm reading this in a YA book, I keep reading without missing a beat.

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that 'delve' seems to have been put in a pigeonhole that's also home to antidisestablishmentarianism. What's so weird about delve? I say delve quite often (40, f) my husband says it sometimes (42, m), and it's a word both my daughter (15) and son (11) sometimes use.

And if we all say it...well, we may live in Cambs now, but up to 4 years ago we all lived in Medway, home of the chavvy Chatham Girls immortalised in a hit record!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh dear,
I had a ten year old boy in my critical reading and history classes last term. These are high school classes, one of them an AP (Advanced Placement; college credit) class. He could and would use words like that.

The term before I had him he was enrolled in an Engish Lit. class ... at our local college.

More than that, daughter four, who is not yet 14 can and will use that kind of vocaulary when the mood strikes her.

Be careful when you assume things about children. I've had middle schoolers who were more adept with our langauge than any of my adult students ever were.

Shannon Heather said...

I think the reason why delved doesn't work is because the entire query doesn't work.

"My name is Amanda." (Hi Amanda! This isn't an AA meeting.) 14 with an imanginary friend - WTF? You lost me right there. The query never pulls us in and does more telling than showing. Therein lies the problem with "delved" - it TELLS us.

Should the Shark have made a comment about 14 yo's not using this word? Sure. It's her blog and if everyone takes their sticks out of their butts for five minutes they might see that this too can be a learning lesson in why it's important to have a solid query letter.

Query Shark is all about learning. There are lessons to be learned to help write better queries, IF one is willing to delve into what she is saying more deeply.

What she didn't say specifically, but did SHOW in the last part of her response was that word choice can draw in the reader or push them away.

In trying to snag an agent, word choice is crucial.

yuvi said...

I'm just excited that you used a reference to The Wire so effectively :)

Anonymous said...

*Climbing off the last bus from Lurkerville*
Everyone is getting their knickers in a knot over whether or not a 14-year-old would use the word "delved." The problem with this query isn't one little word. It's that the voice is INCONSISTENT. As Shannon Heather pointed out above, the query begins with the protagonist saying, "My name is Amanda. I'm 14 and I have an imaginary friend." That voice conveys a very different character (shy, introverted, maybe a little weird) than the paragraph in which the infamous "D" word appears. I've no problems with word nerd teens, nor shy, introverted, maybe slightly weird teens. Pick a voice and stick to it. If you can't figure out why this query isn't working, maybe you should go back to your novel (the whole flustered lot of ye!) and look at it again.

Rick Anderson said...

Yom crusister, burgon wuspton. I know a guy who talks like this. Good luck translating that into "write" speak.

Rick Anderson said...

I have (re)produced two fourteen year old kids who can use delve in a conversation. When should I expect payment?

Joelle said...

Honestly, there is probably more than one kid in my writing class who might actually used delved in a sentence. Sometimes they blow me away and they are 11-13. However, I know where I live and what kind of education these kids are getting and also who they hang out with. Small town (island), readers (all ages), and way, way, way more adults than kids on this island. Around 3500 people live here full time, and there is only 165 kids in K-7 TOTAL. They hang with adults. They read. And they are kind of oddly unusual in both the way they act and their dialogue. That said, unless I was writing about them specifically, I wouldn't choose delve for dialogue for any fourteen year old character. However, I WOULD DEFINITELY feel fine about using it as part of a first person narrative. I "think" lots and lots of words that never make it into my conversation. And as a writer for kids, using words they may not use in the narrative is a good thing. I don't strive to teach lessons, but I don't shy away from words that might send my readers to the dictionary either. Although, I wouldn't necessarily use them in dialogue. One of the things I HATE in YA is when the author has the teens use fancy words and then says it's an SAT word. Yeah...been so much it's old news. Anyway, that's much more my pet peeve!

Joelle said...

I think "could" and "would" are the operative words here. I read lots of bad dialogue that anyone "could" say, but would they?

Maria Caliban said...

The criticism you gave was wrong, even if your instincts were right and the word ought to be jettisoned.

There women who use the word piss, men who use the word munch, and 14-year-olds who use the word delve. Characters in fiction are not general representations of their particular demographics, but unique people. They deviate from real people in a multitude of ways because they tend to be purer and more intense expressions of traits than real people are.

How many older men are anything like Hannibal Lector? How many 16-year-olds have the verbal wit of Mercutio? Artimus Fowl as mentioned previously. I agree he sounds nothing like a 12-year-old ought to but I believe in the character when I read him. Authentic characters need not be statistically probable.

This query doesn't give us a feel for the character so we default to generalities. The writer could redo it so the character's voice is more believable and the word fits, or they could save that for the pages of the work itself and write a more conventional query.

Maja said...

Hah! My husband says "munched" all the time. :D

Brandie said...

I honestly wasn't trying to start a problem by using delve. Though the discussion that followed made me realize what the real problem with my query is: the reader doesn't get a real sense of who Amanda is and that she is the type of kid that would use delve. Delve won't be in the second attempt. Not because it became controversial, but because the query is more detailed.

Unknown said...

That is the way to go about it. More detail. Leave in the "bad" word, but show us why she would use it.

Just to throw in my 2 cents, I do have a 14 year old and like me when I was his age, he throws around big words at times. I wanted to sound more adult, so does he. I think it's cute. But I have never heard him use delve. He knows what it means, and can use it in a sentence, but finds other words more useful. He told me the word was antiquated. I snorted.

I have no problem with the word being used, but the query was lacking the details to tell us that it was a word that she would use.

I can't wait to read the revised copy. And I can't wait to read the book. It sounds like it would be right up my alley!

I am glad you had the guts to use it for chum!

Terri Coop said...

I went back and caught up on QS after this post.

@Nichole - I have two degrees and I'm still trying to get over a PhD in Theoretical Linguistics - WOW!

I don't write YA because I am the first to admit that I don't know how kids talk. I write about crime and criminals, because as a defense attorney, I know enough of the lingo and the voice.

I can get through to a client a lot faster by asking him if he is down with what I am saying than asking him if he understands. I'm in NASCAR country, so telling someone that we are in the "flag lap" elicits a relieved smile whereas we are "almost finished" gets nothing. I've also told several rodeo cowboys that their "8 seconds" is ticking and they understand that I mean it is time to get serious about the situation.

I loved The Wire, like the Shark, I don't know how much is real, but it feels real. Like Nichole said, it is all about register. Dialogue is like music. Even if a musician plays proper notes in proper order, our ears tell us if it is good or not. Same with dialogue.

Another example is "Sons of Anarchy." I sincerely doubt your typical gang, excuse me, motorcycle club, acts or talks like they do. However, as entertainment, it works because it's what I expect, cliches and all. When I want a documentary, I'll watch a documentary.

So, I'm sidin with the Shark on this one. "Delve" is a sour note in the query song.


Virginia Llorca said...

My then almost husband spazzed when I used the word "shard". He married me anyway.

Unknown said...

How much will you send me for producing a 13 year old boy who would not only use the word delve, but also (voraciously) reads at a post-college level? His math skills are horrid, but language? Not a problem. He also comes with a newly-minted teenage attitude, a love of Cajun food and a dazzling array of running trophies. Product of a writer mum (me) and an avid reader (his dad), he began reading before first grade and hasn't stopped since. He also has an 11 year old sister who has similar vocabulary acumen.

I'll be waiting on that check ;)