DIALOGUE or DIRE LOG?

Da way Oi sees it dat dire log gotta be true to dat guy speakin’ y’know?

After reading countless guides and articles I have come to realize that there are many differences of opinion when it comes to writing dialogue in an accent or dialect. I remember reading some of the respected names in literature back in school and their proficiency with the English language flew out the window when it came to some of their colloquial characters. Mark Twain is the first that comes to mind but I recall others who wrote of the Southern States in the 1800s where regional dialects were often thick and confusing.

Current wisdom appears to be that dialect should be kept to a minimum and a few experts have even suggested that you explain that the character speaks with an accent but the actual written dialogue should be presented in proper Queen’s English. I prefer the minimal approach.

In my current writing project I have a character that suffers speech issues due to an accident that damaged the Broca’s area of his brain. With this, and his outwardly awkward and backwoods appearance, he comes off as a bit of a buffoon but in reality is a well-read, philosophical and intelligent man. His overwhelming frustration of knowing what to say combined with the inability to communicate his thoughts accurately and concisely leads to other issues that I won’t get into here.

It probably took you close to five seconds of work to read the first line of this blog.

‘The way I see it the dialogue has to be true to the character’ is much easier and faster to read and that, I believe, is the secret.

The reader. It has to be easy for the reader to grasp the dialogue at a normal reading speed. Unusual spelling or made up words fight the flow of the experience to the point that reading becomes a bit of a chore. That’s the last thing we, as authors, should want.

Writing the voice for my main character has been the biggest trial. Invariably I start with far more complicated and scattered dialogue and keep paring it back until it moves along like those other voices, most of which speak pretty good English.

Here is a sample of the upcoming book:

Annalee reached across and took the book from his hands. “You read that as perfectly as anyone could Fergus. I’m impressed”

“So I passed?”

“With an A plus.”

“No big deal, it’s easy.” Fergus shrugged. “Don’t have to think on what I say ‘cos the book tellin’ me the words y’know? That whole thinkin’ thing is what mess me up sometimes, gettin’ ahead of myself an’ stuff. It comes to readin’ and I just gotta concentrate and say what the book says to say, thass all.”

Hopefully you found it easy to follow.

DIALECT EH?

I love reading dialect but I’d never tried to write serious dialogue in dialect until now. It seemed like it should be easy, scatter a little slang and colloquialism into the conversation and there you have it. I do it all the time on my facebook page, just clowning around.

A few days ago I had one of those off-the-wall images pop into my head. I envisioned a greyed wooden house decaying somewhere in the backwoods surrounded by tall grass, old cars, and trucks. The more I thought about this scene the more I knew I needed to include it in the new book. As I am using the same basic characters from White Wolf Moon I needed to move them into other environments and the old car graveyard not only provides this outlet, it ties in with the original storyline.  I announced my revelation on my facebook page this way:

“Bagged me an epiphany last night…been huntin’ one of those for months. It stumbled noisily up the basement steps and stood by the kitchen island glaring at me through hunted eyes glowing and frozen in the ambient halogen track lighting. Pow…gotcha!! The final piece of the puzzle called ‘sequel’….”

It isn’t the final piece. Working with this new scene opened up a few options in other areas…options that add elements of mystery and excitement that were lacking both in this book and the first one.

The caretaker of this property was the first new character introduced and I wanted him to be unique, totally unlike any of the regular folks. A separate, individual voice with a questionable past…the mystery factor.

The writing process was an invigorated frenzy, pounding out 3,800 words in two days. It was a breath of fresh air (unlike the stench surrounding that old house I was writing about) and the character called Lucas came to life quickly. He needed a dialect to be distinct and to sublimely tell his story in his own voice, without narrative.

I discovered quickly that there is a fine line between creating a character and creating a caricature and had to reign in on his spoken peculiarities. In this case less says more. I spent yesterday smoothing and deleting and while it still requires a bit more tweaking, I’m really pleased with the result.

In 3,800 words Lucas goes through almost every possible emotion and tells his own story without me telling it. Lucas is defined by what he says and how he says it, much the same as in real life, and it doesn’t take much for us to figure out where he’s coming from:

“Waste a time that dreaming was, my mama used to say. While you’re busy with that dreamin’ life comes sneakin’ up and ass slaps ya good.”

blogsign