Michaela from Huddersfield has sent in an interesting question about using natural sounding speech: I recently had a short story critiqued and the person who commented on my writing said I was making a mistake when I wrote my character was sat at the bar. I don’t see what’s wrong with that – it’s how the character speaks. In fact, he didn’t pick up on almost the same words in dialogue, so I’m now even more confused.
This is a case of narrative versus dialogue grammar usage. In dialogue, we can use all sorts of incorrect grammar, because it is, as you pointed out, how the characters speak. However, in narrative (where no one is speaking) using exactly the same construction would, in many cases, be incorrect.
I’ll use your query term in the following example.
“I don’t know why Jane got so upset. Dan was sat at the bar minding his own business and her mate came on to him. He didn’t start it.”
In the above paragraph, it’s fine to say Dan was sat because it is in direct speech and is in keeping with the speaker’s character.
However, if we change things around a bit, so that we only have narrative, we cannot use the same construction because it is grammatically incorrect. We can only use Dan was sitting or Dan sat.
Dan was sitting at the bar…
Dan sat at the bar…
To summarise: in dialogue you can use incorrect grammar, as long as it is in keeping with the way the character would speak, but in narrative you have to ensure the grammar is correct.
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