How do I make a characters dialogue crass and uneducated?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kasper Hviid, May 24, 2020.

  1. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

    The heroine in my story is rather crude. A bit like Gollum if you know that fellow, only a great deal more streetwise. I need this to be reflected in her dialect. Now, the usual way this is done is to make selected bits reflect how the words are spoken. ya instead of you, wanna instead of want to, and so on.

    The problem is that this feels very unnatural to me. I'm mostly used to English being something I read in books, and have limited experience speaking it. If I somehow end up having to speak English, I feel like I'm faking it, and could be called out any minute.

    Are there any concrete rules on how to do dialects? Also, any good medieval swear words?

    And also, how do one make it sound medieval? As I recall, older texts have different rules for how to shorten speech, like "lock'd", which just doesn't fly today.

    I remember a whodunnit, This Dame for Hire, which I think did it rather well. Perhaps I should hunt down some audiobooks, to get more accustomed to speech.
  2. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

    I wouldn't worry about making a character sound medieval. Middle English is radically different from modern English, and Old English is basically an entirely different language. Making a character sound medieval would basically come down to choosing a few "ye olde" words to sprinkle throughout their dialogue. Since their speech is basically being "translated" to modern English anyways, you might as well not bother and just write them speaking modern English and basically fake different ways of speaking by copying or slightly altering a modern speech pattern.

    You can, of course, come up with your own dialect. Sanderson's Mistborn does this with one character ("Wasing of the Wasing, sir!") but I don't consider it to be necessary.
    S.T. Ockenner and Kasper Hviid like this.
  3. Slartibartfast

    Slartibartfast Scribe

    It's quite a minefield really. The two English dialects I actually speak (West-Country and Yorkshire) would be completely incomprehensible if written down and are quite difficult to understand even when spoken. Don't get me started on Mackam, Scouse or Geordie. I've never seen any of these used successfully in fiction or TV unless made for a regional audience. What does seem to work is a 'shade' of a dialect where people will drop in, as you've said, slight contractions and slang terms based on the sound and level of formality of the dialect they're aiming at. Even on TV you tend to see mild accents in characters rather than full-blown dialect, delivered in a thick accent. Think Game of Thrones: Mild Yorkshire accents speaking Oxford English. I'd imagine you could show a character to be crude more by the contents of their dialogue than by their accent but if you wanted to include an accent then I think it would be worth keeping it very light. One particular problem I've had with keeping accents light is that it sometimes simply looks as though my grammar is terrible so I tend to use occasional, very obvious slang or dialect words, but I lean away from continual, less-obvious futzing with word order or funky conjugations.

    Middle English and Old English are actually substantially different languages to modern English. A modern English person won't usually recognise the spoken form of either, or the written form of Old English*, as being English. They may recognise written Middle English as being English but won't understand it in full**. You could slip the odd archaism in but I think you're right that funky misspellings don't fly (and are etymologically redundant most of the time). It might be more trouble than it's worth to try and Medievalise the dialogue, not to mention very easy to do badly.

    *(Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon. Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum, monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah, egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad, weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah, oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra ofer hronrade hyran scolde, gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning.)

    **(Off the erl hugelyn of pyze the langour, Ther may no tonge telle for pitee. But litel out of pize stant a tour, In which tour in prisoun put was he, And with hym been his litel children thre; The eldest scarsly fyf yeer was of age. Allas, fortune! it was greet crueltee Swiche briddes for to putte in swich a cage)
  4. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    I'll throw in my two cents, maybe a quarter dollar, we'll see.

    Like the others have said, can skip the 'ye olde' talk. If you're aiming for street slang, might have to roll up your own according to the setting. I don't think it feels too out of place, but that's me. And if you're aiming for dumb country bumpkin I'm sure you can pull from a lot of cultures all over, because they've got that all worked out all over and it always seems to be along the same lines.

    By God's Bones: Medieval Swear Words -

    That may help and lead to more.
  5. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    The use of slang, double-negatives and cursing is a good way to make someone sound crass. You could even create your own curse words to have less real-world crass.
  6. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    I'd be very cautious about this. Brush strokes rather than full on is my advice.

    If you're not accustomed to hearing that voice you'll find it very hard to convey with authenticity. That's the sort of thing that jolts a reader out of the flow which is the thing you most want to avoid.

    As for a Geordie accent written down - Biffa Bacon in the old Viz magazine did it pretty well.
  7. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Inkling

    Basically put grammatical errors and lots of them even little ones people may or may not notice like Me where it should be I. Some more advanced ones would be something like tooken instead of taken and ain't or yall depending on if your going for the "southern rednecky slang". You should take a look at the book my fair lady for a good idea of how to write bad or crass speech.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I've mostly stopped using misspellings in my dialogue. If I think about a book like Huck Finn - where the dialect is heavy even in the narrative, and also professionally accurate to the communities being represented - then I think that's kind of awesome. In Harry Potter it's done with Hagrid and I think that works well because of Hagrid's unique qualities. But as a practical matter I feel it's used a lot to make the ruffians sound rougher, and I've dropped the generic ruffian pretty much altogether. I want my reader to appreciate each character's voice without spending the extra energy to decipher the dialect, which wouldn't even be a real dialect but just me trying to make a character sound stupid.
  9. spaced06

    spaced06 Dreamer

    It's a hard one, because what "crass" sounds like depends largely on context, and context can vary wildly if we're talking about fantasy. My approach would be to try and figure out what politeness would look and sound like in the social context of my story. Is it not polite among my pointy eared elves to show too much ear in public? Do my dwarves have a certain codified beard knotting etiquette? How does the fact that they live in trees affect my treefolk's behavioral norms? Is it taboo to go down to ground level on saturdays? You get the idea, figure out what would be proper behavior in your fantasy culture. Once you have an idea as to what that would be, you can make your crass character by having him break said social norms and language standards. This allows for your characterization to be directly informed by your world building, which is kinda cool, and in my opinion it will help make your setting more "lived in". Plus, you can have funny stuff, like making what is proper in one culture very rude in another, and all sorts of fun shenanigans.
    StrawhatOverlord likes this.
  10. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

    IF you use F--- and Sh-- words you may restrict your target audience. Avoid "ye olde" English swear words unless you really know what you are doing. A common thing on (eg) 200AD comic books is to invert common terms
    EG Shakara in 2000AD - "Fruk!"
    or Battlestar Galactica "what the frak!"

    Why not read "A Clockwork Orange" by Bugess?
    he describes raping as "plunging" and a young woman as "devotchka" and beating people up as "ultraviolence" - he just created a new vocab for thugs.

    Gollum in LotR uses a lot of extra SSS sounds, but mercifully doesn't get much "air time" / dialogue. 1000 pages + of "my presiouss" would drive me mad, and I love Tolkien. Prof T would have made G talk differently if he had been the hero.
  11. Leonardo Pisano

    Leonardo Pisano Scribe

    As a general remark: don't overdo dialect. A word or dialect spelling might be thrown in occasionally for flavoring purposes, but I would stick to that. The thing is:
    (a) You need to highly familiar withat particular dialect. It can be different from village to village that are even just a few miles apart.
    (b) Even people from the region don'y know how it's spelled, because there is no dictionary for these dialects (as a default rule). That means that even they will not read the text smoothly, which is a definite fictional-dream-disturber.

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