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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Learning to Write XXX

In casual conversation all speakers slur vowels, drop final consanants and take short-cuts through syntax. Don’t tell me this only occurs with people on the lower rungs of the social scale. If you believe that, you haven’t learned to listen yet.

In the latest post in this series I suggested that speech transferred to the page needs trimming. It also, however, needs to be corrected by adding those final g’s and missing t’s which everyone neglects.

Even when you wish to write dialect you will find that reproduction is inadequate. What a reader will tolerate is the idea that the speaker is using dialect, but he won’t appreciate having to struggle with the reality of unintelligible words. You can get away with inversion and the occasional oddity of phrase. But don’t try to push it too much further. You will achieve your effect by suggestion of difference rather than by presentation of it.

We all speak dialect. Even, and sometimes especially, those of us who don’t think we do. Many people try to hide it, but there are truly few people who are free of racial or geographical speech marks.

For the writer it is a matter of judgement how many or how few special marks his characters are given to differentiate them from each other. Each mark is paid for by extra effort on the part of the reader.

And after the manner of the transcripted speech has delineated character, race, nationality, social standing or whatever else it has to do, it also must help to advance the narrative.

2 Responses to “Learning to Write XXX”

  1. Jerry Prager says:

    Your comment brings to mind my thoughts on the relative merits of the writing of JM Synge and Sean O’Casey. Synge’s writing is intricately interwoven with words and phrases that sing the Irish lilt. O’Casey’s dialogue is full of contractions and mispronounced words (al la Juno and The Paycock (peacock). I prefer Synge’s method of embuing language with melody to O’Casey’s method of replicating speech habits.

    jb says: Hi Jerry. I know Synge but have never read or seen any of O’Casey’s plays, which is a pity because his reputation as an Expressionist is something that I am very interested in. Both of these men are dramatists, of course, which makes a lot of difference to the way they handle dialogue. I’m sure O’Casey doesn’t use dialect in his Biography, for instance. But thanks for bring their names into the light, it’s always interesting to contrast different styles.

  2. Pearl says:

    Interesting points. I’ve been muddling about with dialect and wondering just about how much is too much to do more than just suggest.

    jb says: Usually, the suggestion is enough. Of course, if the dialect is a feature or more than just a character trait, then it’s a different story.