1/30/2019 0 Comments
Dialect and Speech
Writing dialect can be tricky. Some authors try too hard to mimic the natural sound of speech. Words like “don’tcha,” “gonna,” and “shoulda” may occur in speech, but they can be bothersome and annoying in written dialogue. Josip Novakovich states in his book Fiction Writer’s Workshop, that you “don’t [want to] alter your spelling too radically. To evoke a drawl, don’t triple vowels. Don’t skip consonants. Here and there, you might alter a word or two, but don’t overdo it, because most readers resent having to slow down.” (112)
Consider the difference:
“Ah don’ think she’s gonna find what she’s lookin’ for. Whatcha think?”
“I don’t think she’s going to find what she’s looking for. What do you think?”
The first sentence may mimic speech more accurately, but reading an entire novel filled with that type of dialogue would be tiresome. Novakovich instead suggests that you “[c]reate a dialect through unique word choices and syntax.” (112)
For example, does the people group you are writing about speak in proverbs? Do they use certain words in place of others? If so, capitalize on those aspects of speech instead of altering spelling.
Novakovich uses the following scene from Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant to illustrate this point:
“We are poor people,” the macher said, apologetically. “God loves the poor people but he helps the rich. The insurinks companies are rich.”
The use of the words “macher” and “insurinks” as well as the proverb give flavor to the Yiddish speaker. (113)
One final note: You DO want to use contractions in dialogue unless a character needs to emphasize a word for meaning. Consider the difference in the following examples:
“I can’t believe you did that!”
“I cannot believe you did that!” (you may even wish to make use of italics to ensure the emphasis is noted by your reader: “I cannot believe you did that!”
Novakovich, Josip. Fiction Writer’s Workshop. 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest, 2008.
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