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Thread: Dialect

  1. #1
    David Lindsay


    Could some of you give me your opinions on writing dialogue in dialect?I am writing my first novel,set in the Deep South between the year 1900 and present day.Should my characters speak as my grandfather did,who once told me he was sure there was a mole or opossum in his barn because he "heerd the sumbitch rootin' 'round in air"?Or is this too distracting,especially if all the characters from the South speak that way?I certainly want the reader to feel and hear the Southern brogue as spoken,but it's been done both well and to death before.Thanks.

  2. #2
    Helene Keough

    Re: Dialect

    Brogue I use myself, and comfortably so, but the key is to keep the reader comfortable. First worth noting, drop the chicken scratching, and go for something visually and comfortably readable. Might not be exactly as granpa woulda spoke, but the reader won't know that, right? But your tone should set it out for them.

    Suggestion from myself, a person who is not from the South, but is presentng an opinion with a keen and humble ear...and you did ask for opinions...right, son?

    "...he was sure there was a mole or possum in his barn cause he heard the sumbitch rootin round in there."

    Ah yes, a compromise, to be sure, but one that won't keep the reader guessing. *sigh* But that's only my humble opinion.


    Here's an example of something I wrote. Not quite Southern, unfortunately, but when you consider that I'm not even American, and yet it gets the point across in a casual, American sorta way:

    "Mrs. Fisher was in the cookware aisle, inspecting a frying pan when she—and everyone else around her—heard a woman scream; a high-pitched, freefall cry of the sort you’d expect from someone riding on a roller coaster who’d discovered their safety bar was broken; there wasn’t an ounce of humor in it. A moment later another sound, a wet, mechanical growl that didn’t replace the scream as much as overlap with it, gurgled up from the bowels of the elevator shaft like the world’s worst case of indigestion. A couple of folks compared the growl to a dentist’s drill, while others said it was like the grind of whirring blades that filters through the flaps separating the butcher’s counter from the cold, moist room out back. Thing is, both descriptions were close to the truth of what was happening in that elevator."

  3. #3
    Yvonne Oots

    Re: Dialect

    No matter the story that you are writing, Fiction,Non Fiction, Fantasy,etc etc. Be true to the times in which you are writing about. Hence, the early part of your book set in the early 1900's should reflect that. As the characters age as does time in your story, so will your language.
    Good Luck on the story.

  4. #4
    Pat Cooper

    Re: Dialect

    Hel couldn't have put it more succinctly.

    I have a smattering of dialogue in my WIP, also dialogue between children. To keep this in an adult world, and (to quote Hel) keep the reader comfortable, the odd word, or turn of phrase will take the reader right to where you want him to be. Well within the story, and enjoying it.

    Although, I daren't think what we are going to see once those elevator doors are open, Hel *g*


  5. #5
    Helene Keough

    Re: Dialect and Elevatorr doors


    A couple more thoughts, as this issue of dialect is one I have wrestled with. Do a search here at WN on the subject, because it was discussed at length and recently, with wonderful arguments set forth on both sides. For me, I have already explained what it boils down to (for me) in my post above, and although I dearly would love to put a smattering of nautical phrases into the novel I have just finished writing (the elevator scene I included here was a very different project), I hesitate to toss it 'aye' or other such words, even though writer friends have suggested I do so. Instead, I use a blend of a pleasantly old English (somewhat colonial in flavour, as I am one myself) with a parallel storyline in modern American, which provides an interesting counterpoint.

    Sheesh. Hope this extra rambling helps. Also hope a few more voices pipe up, and remind us what they thought to the contrary, being that on occasion brogue throws the reading off...well, in their minds. It's a verbal tightrope, frankly, and one that could cut you in half if you trip.


    And Pat, wanna see inside that elevator? Well, here you are then:

    No one had to glance at the changing numbers above the elevator door to know that the source of the sound was moving toward them. But instead of backing away, folks gathered around the elevator, Mrs. Fisher included, and in her curiosity she had forgotten to put the frying pan down, an oversight that may have saved her life in the minutes that followed.
    The elevator doors opened and revealed what looked—at first glance anyway—like the set of a ‘B’ grade horror movie. There was blood on the floor, blood on the walls, neon bulbs flickered and dripped blood onto a woman jitterbugging on the elevator floor. Shopping bags lay scattered around her, and a small cordless drill hung from her left eye socket and swung against her face and the floor as she jerked, the bit having bound itself in her matted hair as it exited her skull behind the ear and held it there. Her arms beat the air and struck the back of the young man who kneeled on the floor next to her, like she was trying to catch his attention, but he didn’t seem to notice as he moaned and rocked back and forth, and cradled the steaming pink and white coil in his lap like a baby.
    Standing in the middle of the gruesome scene and playing the part of The Handyman From Hell to the hilt—if you’ll pardon the pun—was Warden Fisher, holding a spluttering Saws All in his hands, the same handy-dandy tool he’d used to cut a smile across the young man’s gut. Ignorant of the people who stood about the 2nd floor landing gaping at him, he busied himself cutting a hole in the elevator’s roof. It wasn’t until later that anyone realized his focus was the elevator’s sound system, and he’d done a fair job of destroying it, yes sir, he had.
    Several seconds passed before someone screamed. I guess they couldn’t believe what they saw, not at first at least, but with that first scream the floodgates opened and they all began to bay. But no one moved, no one except the warden, that is, and only his head turned around. When he saw his wife standing there screaming right along with everyone else, he burst into tears and walked out of the elevator with arms held out, like he wanted to hug her. Thing is, he was still holding the Saws All, and drops of blood were spitting off the vibrating blades as he approached his wife.
    Some folks said Mrs. Fisher wielded that frying pan like a tennis-pro. She was still screaming when it connected with her husband’s head, and knocked him out cold.

  6. #6
    Mary M.

    For David

    Please, sir, think of the southern conversational cadence as "drawl" and not "brogue," which I really do believe, hon, is derived from the lush hills of Ireland.

  7. #7
    keith miller

    Re: For David

    Look at the dialogue of Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy in such books as Blood Meridan, Suttree and All the Pretty Horses, and Annie Proulx in Close Range, for some ideas on doing dialect.

  8. #8
    Helene Keough


    Derived, yes, although Webster states brogue is: a dialectal accent, *esp* Irish (but not excluding others). Loosely speaking, the lad is correct. *g*

  9. #9
    David Lindsay

    Re: Brogue

    Thanks for all the help,I'm still feeling my way around.Thanks for defending me,Helene,and I am correct in the loosest sense (I chose the word "brogue" carefully),but Lady Mary M. seems to speak with hushpuppies on her tongue,so,as any true Southern gentleman would,I defer to her on this matter,while being most grateful for your rushing to my defence.Thank you both.Thank you Yvonne,Pat and Keith.After pondering this overnight,I am leaning towards Yvonne's way of thinking.Keith,I love Flannery O'Connor, I don't know why I didn't think of that before.Thanks for the brain nudge.Thanks Pat,for reminding me I want to take the reader somewhere.That's the real key anyway,isn't it?

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