Elocushun: Writing dialect in your dialogue.

Now, before the spelling Nazis lose their minds, let me clarify that I do, in fact, know that it is spelled E-L-O-C-U-T-I-O-N. Trust me, I know it’s hard not to go into Nazi-mode because I am one of you and just writing that made me die a little inside. However, it was meant to emphasize the point of today’s blog.

First off, I realize it is a day late. You can blame a combination of the Easter holiday, and my health wanting to make the night interesting for me. So, you will be receiving TWO blogs today so that I can catch up. Now, onto the letter of the day.

It’s an often questioned technique in writing dialogue. One that is pretty split down the middle from author to author. When you have a character with a heavy accent, do you allow the reader to create the inflections and nuances themselves while reading clearly-written English, in proper spelling and grammar, or do you take your creative liberties and write the dialogue the way it would sound coming from that specific dialect.

The choice often begs the question: Does it make your dialogue richer and more interesting or will is gum up the works, confuse the reader, and become a horrible distraction?

Obviously, your ultimate goal is to create a story in which the reader can get lost in. Something that they can flow through easily and fully immerse themselves in. When they don’t have to decipher misspelled, or uniquely constructed, words this comes quite easily.

You can simply write things such as, “Declan grimaced, his thick Irish accent jumbling his words into something almost unrecognizable,’What right do you have to talk to me like we’re friends? You’re nothing to me. Leave me alone.'”

But, what about the “show don’t tell” advice we, as writers, hear over and over again? Now, if we were to take that same dialogue and write it exactly as someone of his background would say it, it would read more like, “Declan grimaced as his rage ran away with his mouth, ‘Waaat roi chucker yer ‘av ter blather ter me loike we’re lads? you’re nathin’ ter me. lay aff.'”

Well…. that is quite… interesting isn’t it? And look at all those red squiggles underneath the words. Pretty, isn’t it? Now, I will admit that, during my roleplay with one of my favorite characters, Aisling (mentioned in my blog about Clichés), that my rp partners and I will use this completely immersive dialect. Why? Well, for us it’s fun. Especially when one of us has a character say something that the rest of us have to look up to figure out what they are saying. In roleplay forums that is absolutely okay. It may give other people headaches to read, but when you’re roleplaying you really aren’t writing for everyone else. You are writing for you and the people in the scene.

When you are writing a book, though, the last thing you want to do is put your readers off because they have no idea what is being said. If you want to make it sound somewhat authentic, but don’t want to make your readers go cross-eyed, you need to find a happy medium between the two. A lot of authors do this with their foreign characters, or even characters from the south, in gangs, uneducated… there are many instances where being creative with dialogue can be used.

Proper English: Go, the fuck, away. I’m sick and tired of your constant bullshit polluting my life. From now on, I am pruning out the negativity. Starting with you.

Pure Irish dialect: Go, de feck, away. oi’m boke an’ knackered av yisser constant tripe pollutin’ me life. from nigh on, scon are prunin’ oyt de negativity. startin’ witcha.

Happy Medium: Go, th’ fuck, away. Oi’m sick an’ tired of yer constant bullshit pollutin’ me life. From nigh on, oi am prunin’ out th’ negativity. Startin’ wit’ ye.

If you were to read the second example without any prior knowledge of Irish dialect and slang you would be hard pressed to understand what the heck was being said. Hell, I wrote it and it had me scratching my head for a moment. But with the third example, I weeded out the uncommon words and stuck with only the ones that, pretty much spoke for themselves. It made it readable but still gave it that Irish flair I was looking for.

Of course, if there is some background character in your scene spouting off incomprehensible babble and your main character is supposed to not understand a word then, by all means, go out with guns blazing on the crazy talk. It will help your reader feel as your MC does. Just remember, moderation is key.

For me, I personally love bringing a richness to my characters anyway I can. If that means writing out their dialect, then that’s what I will do. Every author is different. The key is finding what works best for you and your story and sticking with it. Nothing is harder to wrap your head around than a character speaking in thick accents one line and then it being completely normal the next.

Play around with some writing prompts using various dialects and see if anything strikes your fancy. You may just find a new character to insert into your book.

(I used the Irish Dialect Translator from whoohoo.co.uk to translate my dialogue.)


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