FRIDAY FEEDBACK – A Question About Dialect

Ben Marshall has provided this week’s Friday Feedback

The question I have is related to dialect, and what level is comfortable to read. On a scale of plain English at one end, and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting at the other, does the following sample scan well or pose too many stumbling blocks for people.

The title of the MS is: The Pricking of Thumbs

Final word-count: 100,000.  Genre: YA spec fic

This sample is from about half-way through.

SAMPLE PIECE

Tog started hitching Jumbo and El Grande to the wagons as we hitched

mine to the back of a tractor.  I noticed Sparrow was looking at me

funny.

            “What’s up?”

            “You’re a mad bugger, in’t yer.  Runnin’ off inter the teeth o’ battle.”

            “My life isn’t worth nuffink.  I’m goin’ ter die anyway, Sparrow.

That’s the truth of it.  But I couldn’t have bullets whizzin’ around

‘urtin’ you or the elephants or the freaks if I could stop it, could

I?”

            She give me another funny look. “Yer not goin’ ter die.  Not if I got

anyfink to do wiv it.”

            “So, do you want ter ‘ear my plan then?”

            “Go on.”

            “I got certain chemicals what I can put inter the Patronne’s food

what’ll put ‘im asleep fer a good long while.  That’s when you and me

do a runner.”

            “To where?”

            “Anywhere you fancy.  I ‘eard New Aberdeen’s gettin’ big and they

need workers.  We could earn some scratch, buy some forest and build

ourselves a little ‘ouse.”

MY FEEDBACK

Ben, I didn’t have any trouble understanding the dialect but to be honest I found myself focussing on making sure I got the meaning right and this took me out of the actual story.

I also wonder if the dialect is necessary. Your dialogue without the dialect would be quite strong and If your story is set in a world you are creating then you can give your characters any distinguishing features you want.

One of the problems with dialect is keeping it all consistent and sustaining it for an entire story. For example if your character is a letter dropper would they say ‘you an me’ instead of ‘you and me’. This is the kind of thing you will have to grapple with through the entire manuscript.

This is completely your choice but if it were me I would try and show the character’s personalities and motives etc through the words they choose instead of dialect. You can also strengthen the dialogue with actions and body language.

I hope this helps. If anyone has thoughts or suggestions for Ben, please feel free to leave them in the ‘comments’ section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

If you’d like to submit a 150 word piece for Friday Feedback please email it to  Dee*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Please include the genre of the work, the word count for the entire piece, an indication of where the piece comes in your story and any specific questions you have.

8 thoughts on “FRIDAY FEEDBACK – A Question About Dialect

  1. Hi Ben,

    If you want to keep the dialect, I would write it really phonetically. No commas whatsoever – just write it as it sounds and it will flow much much better.

    Tim Winton does this well (and indeed, without speech marks, see Cloudstreet) and also Kathryn Stockett in The Help, where she portrays the voices of her black maids through an intense dialect, without commas and much word alteration – mostly through her choice of words and sentence construction.

    I think it can be done but it needs to be as clean as possible, and succinct and tight as possible. Be sure to test the cadence of your dialogue, too – make sure it flows when read out loud – extra important when you use such rich text.

    Me likes it!

  2. Exciting extract Ben. You have me wondering what’s happening. I did find it a bit hard going with the dialect. I loved some of your expressions which really added to the flavour and think they work really well Could you just use dialect as a speech pattern occasionally? Eg one character say somefink. Good luck with you work whatever you decide.
    Alison

  3. I have a character in my book who speaks like your character Ben, but I must admit it is hard to make sure all the words are spoken in the same way, and the spelling is the same throughout, however i would be loath to change him now as his dialect is what makes him who he is.

  4. It’s a good point you raise, Yvonne.

    I guess it’s all about consistency of character. As long as your character is credible, readers probably won’t be too picky. If readers can relate to him and care about him, they will follow his journey. I do think clarity of meaning is important. If the reader struggles with the dialect then it distracts them from the story and characters.

    I’d love to know what others think.

    Dee

  5. Hi Ben and Dee

    I really enjoyed this excerpt and have just two belated points to add.

    1) Consistency of dialogue is paramount. That equals a lot of work and checking! Just missing a single ‘to’ into ‘ter’ can jolt the reader out of your story. So, if you go that road, be vigilant!

    2) When abbreviating from the front of a word, be careful to use an apostrophe and not an opening single inverted comma (as you have in the excerpt). eg. ‘ear should be written as ’ear. Unfortunately, you’ll need to manually change these all the way through a story!

    Best of luck!

  6. Thanks Dee and all commenters. I’ve just finished the first draft of The Pricking of Thumbs and, as soon as I can get to the first edit, I’ll be distilling your combined wisdom to produce a uniform, consistent, readable yet distinctive voice – a ‘dialect-lite’ if you will.
    Again, many thanks!
    Ben

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