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  1. #1
    linton lewis
    Guest

    more about dialogue

    This is from my recently completed adult mystery novel The River Nile. Tell me about the dialogue and I gave up being offended years ago. It comes with the territory. Lay on McDuff.

    Leaving the apartment, a loud cry from off Fargo’s left stopped him. "Hey, yo. Whitey. Wait up.” Fargo turned and four teenaged boys sauntered towards him. They walked with a distinct stride that had a kind of rhythmic lope to it. It projected a cool and nonchalant attitude but still purposeful.
    They all wore identical attire, baggy shirts, and baggy knee-length pants. Each had on a baseball cap with the bill pointing backwards and they all sported white basketball shoes, the kind that you pump air into and they’re supposed to make you jump higher. They cost over a hundred dollars a pair.
    The smallest boy in front of the other three looked like the leader. He came right up to Fargo as the others hung back. "What chu doan wid my mo****in sister, mo****er?"
    "I was just having a conversation with her. Are you Tracy's brother?"
    "Sompin wrong wid yo mo****in ears, Jack? Din I just say she wus my mo****in sister?” The cadence of his voice was slow and he enunciated each syllable he spoke.
    "Hi, I'm Fargo Jones. I used to work with Tracy at the River Nile.” Fargo extended his hand and he looked at it with scorn. All the boys were around fourteen. The boys in the back all had smirks on their faces. The boy in front appeared dead serious. Fargo was terrified.
    "We doan git many white boys visitin down hea in da projects, mo****er. Thas a nice lookin truck yo drove up hea in. Dem's nice lookin tires on dere too. Ain't dem nice lookin tires on dere, boys?"
    "Yeah.” "Sho is nice lookin tires.” “Best lookin tires I think I ever seed,” they all pitched in.
    "Long Tom, what chu think Blue Beard goan give us fo dem tires."
    "My guess, Shaster, is about ten dollars a piece,” said Long Tom who wasn't any longer than the other two.
    "Ten dollars a piece? Each of those tires cost me over a hundred dollars,” Fargo said and then wished he had kept his stupid mouth shut.
    "A hundurt dollars. Did yo hea that boys? A hundurt dollars. I din know dere wus dat much money in da whole world,” said Shaster.
    "Shaster. You leave Fargo alone. He's here from my work,” called out Tracy from inside her screen door.
    "Well now, Sis, the man jus said he ‘used’ to work wid yo. Din he jus say dat, boys?"
    "Das whut he said.” "The very words.” “Das whut I heard,” replied all and sundry.
    "Listen to me, Shaster. The man is here about my work. You don't @!#$ with my work, boy. You understand that?"
    "Well sho, Sis, I ain goan @!#$ wid yo work. We wouldn't @!#$ wid Tracy's work, now would we, boys?"
    "Naw, not me.” “Me needer.” “I sho wouldn't,” came from the chorus.
    "Git on out of here, Fargo,” said Tracy from the screen door.
    Fargo started to say something and thought better of it. With more courage than he thought he had, he turned his back on the boys and started walking towards his Bronco.
    The hair on the back of his neck must have stood straight out for he could hear the boys following him with their rhythmic lope. He got in the Bronco while the boys milled around looking at his tires. "Sho do like dem tires.” "Best mo****in' tires I ever did see.” "Look at du tread on dem mo****ers.” "Whad yo say Blue Beard'd give us fo dem mo****ers?” he started up and drove off slowly.
    His heart beat rapidly as he drove away from the projects. He felt terror when the boys had confronted him and the feeling of anxiety left slowly. He wondered what his fate would have been if Tracy had not intervened.
    Through the anxiety his stomach grumbled, reminding him he was starving but with his jaw injured he had no way to chew. A fast-food restaurant on Las Vegas Boulevard North drew his Bronco to it. From the huge menu with the speaker, he ordered a large order of fries and a milkshake.
    When he talked loud his jaw hurt and he had, to his distress, repeat the order three times before he got the okay. When he retrieved his order from the window the employee gave him a big smile and thanked him for the business. He wondered if she lived in the projects, and if she did, how she would have reacted to him over there.


    y'all come



  2. #2
    Bob Kellogg
    Guest

    It worked for me, Linton.

    It's tricky to do dialect. Any way you spell the pronunciation is okay, IMO, as long as it's understandable.

    Only one suggestion.

    "Das whut he said.” "The very words.” “Das whut I heard,” replied all and sundry.

    I'd leave off the tag and just write it like this:

    "Well now, Sis, the man jus said he ‘used’ to work wid yo. Din he jus say dat, boys?"
    "Das whut he said."
    "The very words."
    "Das whut I heard,"

    and

    "Sho do like dem tires."
    "Best mo****in' tires I ever did see."
    "Look at da tread on dem mo****ers."
    "Whad yo say Blue Beard'd give us fo dem mo****ers?"
    He started the engine and drove off slowly.

    We don't care who said what, and you know that. But put the different voices on different lines.

    A couple of spelling suggestions: "da tread" instead of "du tread." "doin" instead of "doan." That last seems more appropriate for "I doan know who done it."

    Your choice, but I tend not to use "yo" for "you" because it's a word in use itself. "Yo, bro." I'd just use the word "you."

    Good writing, Linton.

    Bob K.

  3. #3
    linton lewis
    Guest

    Re: It worked for me, Linton.

    Thank you, Bob. You know I got that yo from Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. I've lived many years in the south and I've never heard an African-American pronounce you as yo. So that's what I get for plagiarizing the sob.

    y'all come

  4. #4
    Reese
    Guest

    More on dialect

    Linton,

    You sho has picked a hard*ss m****in job f'yoself. Mostly, you done okay. But I gots t'tell ya, bro. You gots some pro'lems in heah. Most a'dem pro'lems comes from uneven dialect. See? Wha'chu done is not listen t'wha'cha eahs is tellin' ya. See? You cain't be goin' in'ere an' not stayin' consistent to da dialect. If you been droppin' Rs on da ends o' words, you cain't be sayin' mo***eR. You be sayin' sh*t like mo***ah. An' you don't be talkin' about chu sisteR. She be yo sistah. An' you gots ta know, da sistah woman be jumpin' yo sh*t if you think she needs yo black *ss to take care o'her bidnez.

    BTW, Linton. If you want to talk Ebonics, don't steal from Wolfe, just go out and buy yourself an Ebonics dictionary. (No. I don't have one.)

    Anyway, mostly, it goes okay. The only real problem I see with using that much vernacular and dialect is that it's hard to follow the train of thought in the story if you're concentrating so hard on how to pronounce the "funny" words.

    Reese

  5. #5
    Glen T. Brock
    Guest

    Re: More on dialect

    Linton,

    Dialect and vulgarity lose their value if overused. I think it is more important to have realistic dialog rather than street jive and cuss words. I operated a business in one of the highest crime areas in the city of Atlanta for thirty years and I can tell you that most people don't talk that way, and those that do don't talk that way often.

    Let's examine what you wrote. The description of the clothes is fine. Do you know why baggy shorts are punk chic? Do you know what the significance of wearing baseball caps backwards is? How about the shirts? What color are they? Why would anyone give a damn? How about the tennis shoes? The shorts are baggy for concealment (shoplifting, dope, guns, etc., or the appearance of same). Letting the underwear hang out over the top of the pants is a statement too. Shirts are the same. They are usually jerseys. The color of the shirts sometimes denotes gang affiliation. The expensive tennis shoes are a status symbol. A college kid was murdered two blocks from my store for a pair of shoes like that.

    Although sometimes it seems that afro americans invented the word mother****er, most do not use it in every sentence. Usually a black woman is treated with courtesy, and is usually called a sister (in spite of the rap song lyrics).

    Instead of the ebonics I would suggest you develope key phrases and words that are used on the street. For example: A fancy car is a hog. A cadellac is a pimpmobile. Marijuana may be called reefer or weed. Cocaine may be called snow. Heroin is horse. Someone campaigning is a guy trying to impress a girl.

    Of course there are also people, living in the same neighborhoods, who would never use that kind of language. Muslims, for example, NEVER dress up in a superfly outfit. Even in the heat of a summer day they are in coats and ties.

    Robert Beck, who wrote PIMP under the pen name 'Iceberg Slim,' put a glossary of commonly used slang words in the back of the book. Those words are specific to the Chicago area and are dated, but they should give you an idea of street language.

    It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the ghetto as a different world. It's a xenophobia that haunts us no matter what our race is. It is legitimate to describe cultural differences. Overdo it and you sound racist, no matter if you are black or white. Remember, only a few decades ago northerners considered all southerners as characters from Caldwell's TOBACCO ROAD. Stupid, arrogant turnip eaters rotting with the civil war ruins is not a fair description of Henry Gradey's New South. Hell, I don't even like turnips.

    Glen T. Brock

  6. #6
    Reese
    Guest

    Re: More on dialect

    Glen,

    Thanks for the clarity and depth of your comments. Things one knows but forgets to say. Just a few quick notes, though. Marijuana is still called reefer in some regions of the country but mostly it is not. Likewise, cocaine, in some areas, is still called snow, but not much. Lastly, heroin might still be called "H", but it hasn't been called 'horse' in many, MANY years.

    Still, your comments and advice were solid. I'm sure Linton, armed with the questions and comments you brought up, should be able to go back and make a stronger, more cohesive, more believable story.


    Reese

  7. #7
    Bob Kellogg
    Guest

    Re: More on dialect

    Interesting discussion. I faced the same problem, Linton, in A Hard Place to Rock. Mike's buddy Jesse is in his thirties and comes from L.A., so there's not a lot of overlap here, but this fragment will show what I tried to do with Jesse's speech in my dialogue:

    - - -
    While we ate, Jesse looked at me and asked, "You come home alone that night?"

    "Well, no, but the woman I was with helped me after I got beat up."

    "Helped you? How she help you?"

    "She let me lean on her while I dragged home."

    "How long she stay? Long enough for you to get down?"

    "Well, no. She watched me slug down a shooter, then split. Probably knew that if I got down, I couldn’t get up."

    He forked some more eggs. "You didn’t figure out she ID you? Then she feel guilty and come back to make sure you get home?"

    "What do you mean, ID me?"

    "What d’you think? She point you out to them bad boys. This the one, she say."

    "You think she ID’d me to the thugs?" I started to object, then stopped. Could he be right? The events of the evening replayed in my head. How did they know where I'd be? "@!#$."

    "You got that right. That bird lure you into a ambush. How else the muscle know who you are and where you’d be?"
    - - -

    I tried not to slow down the story and to let the speech patterns identify the characters without too many literal spellings. I'm not sure how successful I was, but I've edited those kind os passages several times, mostly to replace odd spellings with correct ones. I think you can give a flavor to an accent with a few well-chosen words sprinkled into standard syntax.

    Bob K.

  8. #8
    Glen T. Brock
    Guest

    Re: More on dialect

    Reese,

    Forgive an old antique like me for being out of date. The jargon changes constantly. An old friend of mine used to be fond of reminding me, when some kind of nonsense started in the store, not to get upset. His universal explaination was "It's a black thang!"

    To give you an example of how culture changes let me tell you of an old Clark Gable movie I was watching the other night. Gable's girlfriend was concerned about his dour mood. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Earlier you were so gay!" Better change that script.

    Glen T. Brock

  9. #9
    linton lewis
    Guest

    Re: More on dialect

    Reece, I bought you book by the way. I haven't started it yet but I'm looking forward to it. Now in your example I had to concentrate very hard. Even Bob's example distracted me.

    And, Glen, I went to high school in Atlanta and have lived in Mableton, Smyrna, Marietta, Doraville, and Chamblee. Where was your business?

    Back to the problem at hand. I've dealt craps with African-Americans and some of them used the MF word in damn near every other sentence. The reason I wrote my scene this way was because I wanted the boys to be confrontational, speaking that way on purpose, in your face, threatening Fargo. I know Mark Twain got away with it and imho so did Wolfe. I'm not striving for accuracy in ebonomics because it's a fleeting way to talk anyway. Who's to say what is right and not right. There are no teachers going around to every black getto teaching everyone how to talk it.

    What I'd really like to know is, is it distracting enough for me to go in there and change some of it? If I can get away with it I want to keep it because imho the scene needs it.

    y'all come

  10. #10
    Glen T. Brock
    Guest

    Re: More on dialect

    Linton,

    I owned B&C Book Co. on Roswell Rd. in Buckhead. I also owned East Atlanta Book Co. on Flat Shoals Road in East Atlanta. I also owned UPTOWN NEWS, across from the Fox theatre on Peachtree Street, downtown. My anchor store was West End News on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.(formally Gordon St.) in West End.

    You ask if your dialog is disrupting to the scene and will it insult your readers. Yep. Just because people talk that way doesn't mean that they like reading it. It's like the infamous 'N' word. Society has developed cerain shiboleths, creating a double standard for dialog.

    If you want your characters to be confrontational write the confrontation into the scene. Don't overstate your case.

    Glen T. Brock

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