Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Pro's and Con's of Dialect In Writing

A lot of famous authors from Mark Twain to Alice Walker have used dialect in their writing. As readers we have all experienced reading dialect and seen both the power it has to suck you into the world of the characters, while at the same time, really becoming an obstacle to our understanding of the story. Yes, bringing in an authentic language and voice to the story adds to the realism of world you are creating on the page, but it might be working to your disadvantage.

If you think about the first time you read Shakespeare, you will understand what I mean. For most new readers of his plays, it took two or three acts before our heads to get a grasp of the language. By then, we might have become so lost and confused, it really didn't matter because our brains turned off. For people who travel, you too might have experienced just this same thing. when you end up in a country that might speak a different dialect of English, it seemed as if you might be really listening to a different language entirely.

I see many new authors really mess this one up a lot. In their attempt to create a truly authentic picture of their world, they fill the book with dialect that, for many, would take a dictionary to understand what the characters are saying. There are good intentions here, but the problem is that the fluency of the story, the rhythm and cadence that makes for an easy read is stopped dead in its tracks with the language.

So, what is the solution? Does an author eliminate all of the language and dialect? You can, or you can simply reduce it throughout the book. Use it sparingly and you should be fine. I think some great examples of this are the authors of historical fiction, especially those that write in a time period with a unique voice, or a country with that strong dialect. Scottish authors use the "doona's" sparingly. Medieval authors back off of the "thee's" and the "thous". If you think of the movie, Hunt for Red October, you get the idea. People often laughed at Sean Connery's character. Isn't it interesting that this Russian submarine captain speaks amazing English with a British accent? He had to, or the odds are the movie goers would have no idea what he was saying.

Play with it a little. See what you can find on this when you read this week.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, as always. My current WIP has Irish characters, and when my main character visits Ireland I'm going a tad heavier on the locals' dialogue but keeping it simple with some repetition of simple words like mum, da, talking about thatched roofs, etc. so it's a slight dialect & foreign location reminder, but is not a jarring transition from the American character's speech to when an Irish character is talking.