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Criminal character's voice

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Letharg, Aug 28, 2016.

  1. Letharg

    Letharg Troubadour

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    Hi fellow scribes!

    In my current WIP I have a criminal character which I need to find a voice for. This is a non PoV so it's not too important to get it perfect but I am looking for a few variations of language that I can have him use.

    Some background: He's from the southern parts of current America. He's white (his girlfriend is a racist), a drug addict and small time criminal who's been selling drugs for years. He currently lives somewhere in the Rust Belt and is in hiding because he stole some of the drugs he was supposed to sell.

    So how would vary his voice? What words could be throw into his speech to show his criminal background while still retaining readability in the novel?

    Also while your at it, how would you have other characters with some sort of dialect speak? How would you vary their voices in regard to their background and the time they are living in? It's always difficult to write slang/dialect in an efficient way so I, and probably others, would find it interesting to see how you deal with it.
     
  2. I say don't use dialect unless you are VERY familiar with it (as in, you grew up surrounded by it).

    If you want a Southern dialect, though, you'll have to specify where exactly in the South he comes from, because there's not one "Southern dialect" homogenous throughout the region.

    As for showing he's a criminal...rough, harsh manner, lots of profanity...idk. From that he could also be a middle school boy, lol...
     
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  3. Letharg

    Letharg Troubadour

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    Yeah, I won't fall into that trap. I'm mostly looking for a few words beside profanities (he will use those too, believe me) that could indicate that he's from the south. Maybe there's something that is a typical statement for the southern part of America? Just something everyone associates with those areas? I've never been to America so I'm a bit lacking in personal knowledge.
     
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Your best bet would be to search Google for "Southern U.S. Slang" or "Southern U.S. Dialect."

    The problem is that different areas of the South will have different slang/dialect. Louisiana slang will be different than South Carolina slang. Even within a state, different areas will use some different terms.

    So maybe once you determine where your criminal called home, you could narrow down the search, maybe search for some documentaries about that area, with interviews or great acting so you can listen to the speech.

    If you are using only a handful of terms, you can run into trouble if those are terms unlikely to be spoken in isolation. For instance, in the link above on Louisiana, the blog writer says he switched to "come here" from "come see" after moving to New York and discovering how confused his acquaintances would be when he said, "Come see!" So if you chose to use "come see" but much of the rest of the vocabulary used by the character was not laced with slang, it might come across as facile tokenism. On the other hand, some Southern phrasing like "Ya'll" might be a harder habit to break—in part, because people from the North will understand it.

    Here's a long list, a glossary, but it doesn't split the terms up into geographic areas: A Glossary of Southern Accents * alphaDictionary
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2016
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  5. I'm not sure searching Google is the best idea....you'll get a lot of over-exaggerated, sarcastic or plain disrespectful representations. There's a lot of stuff out there that's meant for humor. You see, there's quite a bit of stigma surrounding the southern accent/dialect, and lots of people assume it means you're stupid and uneducated.

    That said, it might give you an idea of things people say. If you do your character's dialect based on a Google search, it might sound kind of disrespectful because it's a dialect that people really like to make fun of.

    If you specify a specific state, you might get better results.

    I'm from the south, so I'm surrounded by this stuff and I've heard a lot of the dialects. Dialects are very different in different parts of the south. For example, "y'all," the quintessential "Southern" word. My grandmother (I call her Mamaw--not sure if that is southern or not) is from North Carolina and says something that sounds like "yinz" (I guess derives from "you'uns) to mean the same thing. Never heard her say "y'all." Kentucky will be different from Louisiana, which will be different from Georgia, and so on.

    Something I say: "How come?" To mean "why?" Not sure if this is southern or not.

    I should ask my mother about this...she would know.
     
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  6. Documentaries are a great idea, though. Absolutely figure out which state specifically he comes from.
     
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  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yeah, I mentioned documentaries because a simple Google search—for anything whatsoever, not only slang/dialect—may have no context if one isn't conscientious in the searching. But having a place to start, for someone entirely unfamiliar with Southern dialect, is a good idea. If nothing else, the variety of search results can make one pause.

    I'm in an odd position myself, because I grew up in southern Missouri with relatives in Arkansas, a handful from Texas, and some in-laws from Mississippi. I grew up around it, particularly my mother's side of the family. Ya'll, young'uns, fixin's (food, not to be confused with fixin', "fixin' to leave"), and on and on. But although I grew up thick in it, I've spent most of my life trying not to speak it, and so although I'd have a much easier time writing in that dialect than someone from the U.K. or maybe New York, I'd be looking it up on Google to refresh my decades of experience hearing it. It's not exactly natural for me.

    Edit: I would add, also, that not everyone in my neck of the woods speaks thickly in the dialect, and there seems to be a generational difference as well. But some do, and even many of those who don't will have bits and pieces of the dialect/slang. I think one major mistake is to assume that everyone in the South speaks the same.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2016
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  8. Letharg

    Letharg Troubadour

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    So, I guess the top advice is "Don't do it" closely followed by "If you have to do it, do your research". I should have guessed that there are no easy ways out. Thanks for the advice, I'll be checking those links. I'll also determine a home state for my character and focus on that. Also, considering that one who's grown up in the South needs to do research, I guess that quite some time need to be diverted. At least I'll have the knowledge the next time I need a Southerner in my novel.
     
  9. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    While the above advice is good, I'd like to add a caveat.

    Less is more.

    What I mean, is that if you load your dialogue with dialect words and phrases, it will be difficult for your reader to follow. They will notice the writing because they have to work to understand what is being said. Most of the time you don't want that. They want to read, not work.

    Rather, pick a word or two, omit normally used words, or mix in a phrase or two your character says often, or in certain situations, that give the reader a hint of flavor for that dialect. The rest of the dialogue should be normally written as you would any other dialogue.

    I hope that helps.
     
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  10. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    I've been to every state that's considered "the south" and I've only noticed one commonality: The word y'all. It's a truly fascinating word because it can refer to one person or several.


    ***EDIT***

    I've moved this thread to Writing Questions because it seems to be the best place for this discussion.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I saw on one of those Q&A sites someone make the joke that in Texas the plural is "All y'all."
     
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  12. The way I understand it, "y'all" refers to more than one person, whereas "all y'all" refers to a large group.
     
  13. I have never heard it refer to one person...
     
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    The Wikipedia page on the word mentions a singular usage but that it's a 1/100 occurrence rate, and WP makes the generalization that people in the South will argue it's supposed to always be plural.

    Maybe the confusion is when it's spoken to one person, as if referring to that single individual, but the connotation is along the lines of "you and your folks." (I ripped the example from the Wiki.)

    As an aside, I was pleased to discover that the Wiki page mentioned an Ozarks variant, "you'uns," which is something I heard a lot from some family members as I was growing up.

    As another aside, I was discussing these things with my mother the other day about my dad's father who used some distinctive Ozarks hillbilly terminology that was quite different than her family's Ozarks vernacular. His children and their children didn't quite pick that up, and now that he's gone it seems lost to me. I don't remember it well.
     
  15. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    You need to travel through Mississippi and certain parts of Louisiana then. They do that a lot there.
     
  16. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    Ah, Wikipedia. The internet's last bastion of true knowledge... A place where bored eleven year-olds can be an expert on anything. :D
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    As opposed to Mythic Scribes where only the gods gather. :D
     
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  18. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    So true. I have a problem with any site that offers information that hasn't been peer reviewed and can be put there by anyone with an e-mail account.

    Here at Mythic Scribes, we have members who are published (by major publishers) authors, doctors, scientists, history professors, lawyers and a vast array of other disciplines who are dedicated to helping each other get things right.

    A friend of mine argued that it's reviewed by staff and contributors. I argued that there are thousands of entries made every day and it's not humanly possible to review every submission.

    To prove my point, I made changes in an entry about a historic landmark close to where I grew up. I replaced every mention of that landmark with a word describing part of the male anatomy. It took Wikipedia a month and a half to correct that.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
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  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Was it the Washington Monument?

    Earlier in this thread, DOTA mentioned not trusting a Google search, and for me it's all the same. An abundance of information, but requiring care, a comparison and evaluation of multiple sources, and individual discernment. I use Wikipedia often, but my natural tendency is skeptical intrigue, whether I get my info there, here, or anywhere. I've been known to settle on an idea merely as one step in a process of evaluation. ("Okay, let's put this on a pedestal and see how long it survives!")
     
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  20. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    LOL... It wasn't the Washington Monument but good one. :D I'm of the same mind when it comes to information on the web. However, the converse is that there are peer-reviewed university articles on damn near any topic you can think of. My mantra is if the information comes from a site that has .edu somewhere in the address, it's very likely a reliable source.
     
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