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Seeking Dialect Advice

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by KC Trae Becker, May 30, 2016.

  1. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

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    Does anyone have advice for writing in dialect?

    All the writing teachers, books and articles I've encountered say don't write in dialect. Yet advanced writers do it successfully. As a nube writer with a story that begs to be written in dialect, I'm looking for advice or resources to learn how to use dialect effectively as quickly as possible.

    Can anyone help me?
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'd say it depends on how you define writing in dialect. If ye mean mod'fyn da worz o da charriters then fer all dats pleasin tae ye pleas dunnae do dat.

    The above example is exaggerated, but it shows the principle. It's probably possible to simulate dialect by modifying words in a way that doesn't get annoying after a few paragraphs, but I think you'll have to be very familiar with the dialect, and you need to be very confident with what you're doing.

    A better way is to change the speech patterns, or the word choices of the speakers. Emulate Yoda's way of talking you can do. This can still get a bit annoying if overdone, but it saves your reader having to look at unfamiliar words.
     
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    The idea is to modify words in such a way that it is recognizable as dialect, or a character's particular manner of speaking, without making it a continually frustrating chore for your reader.

    I'll use Svrtnsse's example above as writing that would quickly become a chore:

    You can see how the above would be difficult and make people want to stop reading. It takes too long to work through. Too much, and the brain start to ache. My enjoyment of the story is replaced by work. But, if we made changes to get the notion of dialect across while still conveying to the reader that this character talks differently, then we achieve some of the effect without frustrating the reader.

    The above is easier to read. It also conveys a sense of dialogue. Even the above might be a tad overdone, but you get the idea.

    A famous fantasy author who has used dialogue effectively is JK Rowling with her groundskeeper character Hagrid.
    Rowling mixed perfectly written words with some words that were altered to convey a different manner of speaking. It's not overly tiresome for the reader, but it gets the point across.

    The main thing to remember: Don't overdo it. Use just enough dialect to create the effect.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    i don't write in dialect, but I do, very judiciously, add in a foreign word that is easily recognizable here and there to remind the reader that my characters are speaking a foreign language. We will see what my editor thinks of that when the work in done.

    I think too much dialog can get annoying fast. Use it lightly if you must.

    Now I don't have any direct tips for you on how to write dialect, but an old friend of mine writes amazing dialect in some of her works and if you wanted someone in the spec fic field who writes dialect to study I would heartily commend Nalo Hopkinson's work to you.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Here is the preface to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

    I'm not going to say that you can't use a dialect. But, I am going to say, can you do it well enough to write a Preface like this one? If the answer is no, I would suggest you try to avoid it.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
  6. Devora

    Devora Sage

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    It helped that he was a steam boat operator before the Civil War. He was constantly exposed to the same dialects every day for those years so he had time to observe and write down approximations.
     
  7. Peat

    Peat Sage

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    One of my very favourite series of books as a child was the Redwall series and they were dialogue heavy beyond belief, with the Moles in particular using the most impenetrable west country burr. He sold 20m books exposing children to sentences like "Missus Spinnsey doant be unnerstandin' heagly burds. Doant ee wurry, zurr Berr'olly. They'm carnt talken propperly" and "Aye, an' thy ole grandad allus said you'm wurr ee most gurtly 'andsome creature. Noice ole beast ee wurr. Oi used to take 'im furr walks lest ee bump into trees. Bloind ee wurr, pore creetur!"

    So, you can totally do really thick ones and succeed. Just you'll have lots of people complaining as well as lots of people liking it.

    As for how to do it? Listen to people with accents and read prose written in accent.
     
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Personally, I wouldn't go there. Not heavily anyhow. I have the urge to go nuts sometimes and I always rap my fingers with a yardstick. I look at it this way, if you're going for traditional publication your MS is going to end up in a pile somewhere whether agent or publisher, and it's going to have to get past the first firewall, which may or may not be the actual agent, and at a pub, it's almost guaranteed it hits a reader who filters out junk first. The last thing you want is some poor bastard who has to read your work amongst 20 others on a given day to toss your MS in the scrap pile because the dialogue is thick and slow, muddied by dialect.

    So, if you do, make sure it reads well.

    In addition, for a unpub'd writer, it's going to be fairly difficult to stay perfectly consistent and keep that voice just right. Can it be done? Absolutely. But it's got a good shot at being more of a hurdle than a plus.
     
  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Just a guess, I've never read Redwall, but of those who love the series, I'd bet a high % didn't love that dialogue. But then when I was younger I was more tolerant of these things. Now? I'd just put the book down. Done.

    I think screenwriting kind of destroyed my tolerance for reading dialect. Sentence structure, word choice, contractions, even irregular words (gonna might fly), made up words, great! Start throwing in apostrophes and your script gets the heave-ho because you're directing the actor. To me, heavy dialect in fiction is similar to directing the director/actor, except you're directing the reader (much the same as "he shouted") and worse it threatens to slow down the reader and make them say the dreaded, "huh?" and make them read it twice or three times to get it.

    Clockwork Orange manages dialect superbly, but it really is a part of the book. There is a reason the language is the way it is. Faulkner, Twain, writers replicating a real world dialect in a real world setting are more apt to get away with it. If in a fantasy/sci-fi setting where the characters wouldn't be speaking English anyhow, it seems damned funky to me when a character appears to break into a southern twang, or some such. If Boromir has an accent, tell me he has a Gondorian accent, and use word selection and sentence structure to more subtly indicate it, or do nothing at all. Just tell me, or don't. My personal opinion is that it's a heavy handed technique best used in small doses, and is more often used as a cheap method to create "voice" for a character in otherworld fiction, meaning not Earth. Attempting to replicate dialect for an earth based story makes more sense.

     
  10. johnsonjoshuak

    johnsonjoshuak Troubadour

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    Even reading that excerpt hurt my head and I stopped after 5 words :-D

    I'm of the camp that modifying a precious few words to get the point across works better than laying it on thick.

    One of my characters has a sort-of "Southern, American" accent so I tend t' drop extra vowels on a few words here an' there t' get the point across. But mostly I use vocabulary and slang to show accent.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    To the OP: what is it about this story that "begs" to be written in dialect?
    Are you picturing the narrative in dialect? All dialog? The dialog of specific characters?
     
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  12. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

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    skip.knox, there are many different cultures and time travel involved. The story would be flat without some recognition of different speech patterns, language and difficulty understanding each other. I considered a babblefish type device to cut out the need, but at least twice I use the language barrier as a small part of the plot.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm not going to try to talk you out of your plan, but I will say that a great many authors have deal with precisely this scenario (multiple languages) both in fantasy and in SF, without recourse to writing in dialect. So I wouldn't say the story begs for that treatment, but rather it's a choice you are making. Nothing wrong with making that choice, of course. It's your story! But it pays to distinguish between what the story needs and what the author wants. On such a distinction has turned many an author-editor death cage match.
     
  14. Rick

    Rick Acolyte

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    Write examples and have different people read it out loud. You will soon learn what works and what doesn't.
     
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  15. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

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    That's a great idea, but I'll have to use a large sample pool of people. I find responses to things like this vary a great deal from person to person and group to group.

    I do plan to be sparing with the dialect. Nothing like Redwall's moles. I usually quit trying to understand half way through whatever they say and try to figure it out from the context clues. Though that doesn't really bother me. I just figure I'm unfamiliar with that speech pattern so it make little sense to me. I will try not to do that to readers.
     
  16. Rick

    Rick Acolyte

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    Yes, people can react very differently. I have some in the novel I am working on and some in my writer's group were very positive and others the complete opposite. The plus for me was there were are lot more who reacted positively. This has given me the confidence to leave it in.
     
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  17. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Watch movies or TV shows that depict the dialects you want to choose and transcribe them to text to get the sounds you want.
     
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