Monday, November 11, 2013

Character Voice in "The Block Captain's Daughter"

While reading this week's book by Demetria Martinez, I was a bit thrown off by the characters' dialogue and the letters Lupe wrote to her daughter. What bothered me was the characters' vocabularies and grammar--I'm caught between belief and disbelief in Lupe's ability to write the words on the page, and some of what the characters say seems unnatural. It may be that Martinez never intended us to believe that the characters speak as they do, but I don't understand why she would want that.

For example, on page 16 Cory apologizes for being "haughty about the fact of our roots." Soon after, Peter says, "I went to Stanford intending to major in Spanish. Instead I majored in depression." Those words might look nice on paper, but it's difficult to imagine them actually being spoken in the context. I feel that the characters' peculiar ways of speaking diminish the distinctions between them.

As for Lupe, I want to say that her grammar and diction are more flowery than I would expect from someone in her situation, but it's also explained that she learned English from American Christians, so her sense of sentence structure might have been influenced by old, formal texts like the Bible.

What do you think about the voices of Martinez's characters? How do they compare to the voices of other characters we've encountered this semester? Am I missing something or making a mistake?


  1. I also noticed that a lot of the dialogue was very unnatural and too formal for realistic conversation. I also don't know if that was intentional or not, and didn't think to ask today. With Lupe, I also remembered the explanation about learning English from missionaries, and her being more motivated to learn English for survival than someone else learning Spanish for convenience, but even then, it still seemed odd. Just because I can understand more formal English doesn't mean I use it in everyday conversation.
    Natural dialogue is important for me in order to immerse myself in a book. While I didn't mind it so much in this book because the surrounding writing and story was good, I remember one of my (many) problems with Butterfly Kisses was that the dialogue was again very often unnatural. Spoken conversation and written dialogue do not follow the same rules or conventions as written description, and I wonder if inventing conversation and shifting between spoken/written language is a common problem for writers.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Craig! Those were my exact thoughts as I read the story, and that's probably why I didn't enjoy the book as much. Granted, when someone is learning a new language, they do have "another" way of speaking it, which turns out to be much more formally structured. But Lupe seemed to do it in a very unnatural way, like an author would. I think Demetria diminished the credibility and authenticity of her characters writing in a way that is way too formal and way too ornamental to be used in the everyday vernacular.

    Personally, I speak in a manner much more relaxed than in the way I write. Speaking and visual cues (body language) allow us to interpret humor, sarcasm, formality, and other emotions when communicating with other people. In writing, we have nothing but the words in front of us, and it is up to us to express as much of our idea(s) as concisely as possible but in a comprehensive manner. But the line here (the secret, if you will) is that you do it in a way that your reader will find engaging, easy to understand, and relatable while still conveying your personal thoughts and still move the plot along.

    I think what separates fiction from non-fiction in general is the fact that the author has to get away from a formal way of writing and "speak" on paper, in a loose, lax manner that usually almost everyone else speaks too. But I can't really judge or comment, God knows I'm no author!

  3. I agree with what you said Craig. The conversation between Cory and Peter seemed to be stuff they would say in their heads and not aloud. Especially on a second date after a not so perfect first date. The thing that kind of bothered me was the switching between the different tenses. I am not used to reading novels in the second person, but after a while it didn’t bother me. Then when it switched to Peter it became first person and I was like okay Peter is going to speak in that voice, but when it came to Peter again it became second person. The same thing happened with Maritza. I don’t know if anybody else noticed and if it only just bothered me.


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