Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dialect- writing tip

An author submitted a book this week, along with advice that some words had been deliberately misspelled as that was the way the characters talked.

Well, of course, it is usual to misspell dialect, though replacing a lot of missing g's with apostrophes can make a manuscript difficult to read and to typeset, it's okay to do that and we know all about it and won't think you're not bright enough to spell, "Okay, ya wanna go, or what?"

Still overuse of dialect is a common beginners' mistake and one I was often guilty of myself.

With dialect, as with many good things, less is more.

Yes, Less is more. Again, we are a nation of poor readers. I grew up reading Frances Burnett’s thick dialect in The Secret Garden, but most readers today don’t have patience to decode all those missing letters and apostrophes in strange places. They go rent the movie, which also has very little dialect. I’ve met people from Northumberland. I wasn’t sure they were speaking English. Dialect can be very difficult to write well. This is a lesson I learned, reluctantly I’ll admit, in a workshop with Diana Gabaldon. She wrote a book about a group of 17th century Scots, and English Outlander. No dialect is a thick as that of Scotland. Diana said she listened to old Scots ballads sung in English and in Gaelic to absorb the rhythm of the speech. There’s a great deal of difference between the speech of the Scots and the Englishwoman, and among the Scots, depending upon their station in life and educational level. But nobody said, “hoot mon!” She changed didn’t to didna, and wouldn’t to wouldna, and added some dated terms like “foxed” for drunk. But most of it was in the rhythm of the language. Because of the sentence construction, English sounded different when the Scots spoke, but their meaning was never obscured.

1 comment:

  1. This is very true. When I first wrote the stories about Earle and Stumpy the dialect was too difficult to read (except for me, ha) and as I wrote more of Broken Angels I began to see that the truth was the cadence of the language but I remmembered my mother's voice sounded and I visited family in Tennesse to see if I was right. I have since only used a few words to denote language but kept to the honesty of the sound.