Tuesday, February 22, 2011

di·a·lect [dahy-uh-lekt]

The question of writing in dialect, particularly when it involves phonetic spellings, is usually answered emphatically, "NO! Don't do it."

Strictly following EVERY rule of writing [of course], I gave the parade lady (in my trilogy) the voice of a street version of a southern black Appalachian woman. As with most things in literary fiction that was an enigma. Later the reader understands who that woman really is and her message (role) in the story.

I've seen dialect done extremely well by Jewell Parker Rhodes in her Douglass' Women. She did a reading (by memory) that totally silenced the room. I would dare anyone to tell Jewell not to write in dialect. She did it masterfully.

Historically, the grand master of dialect is Mark Twain. Recently there was the [misguided] notion to sanitize Mark Twain's writing and remove the offensive N-word [and a bit more].

Having heard several stage productions (by Hal Holbrook) of Mr Clemens' essays, I'd doubt he would go along with such a project. He didn't treat any subject delicately, and his writing would not be immune from his brisk no-nonsense opinions either.

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. Mark Twain

"Fixing" Mark Twain's writing would make as much sense as "fixing" Shakespear. (Who comes up with these ideas?)

Like anything in fiction writing, dialect has to be a justifiable part of the story. And, it has to be done extremely well.

Catch this link, it is what started me thinking on this topic: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2011/02/20/fans-love-scots-writer-s-e-book-but-can-t-understand-slang-86908-22937251


  1. I use a little cockney dialect in my work. I use it to show a class rift.

  2. We all have different modes of speech - sometimes it's dialect, sometimes it's the way we use language. To remove this from our writing would be criminal. However, to write entirely in something that people cannot associate with may be dangerous.Good post Nadine.

  3. More than anything, I wanted to point out that when we do something in a novel, we need to understand why it fits and is important. By doing that, the reader will not think twice about it because it fits and is important.

  4. Hello new followers, and welcome. Let me invite you to post comments. They are not edited or whatever -- and I've only had to remove one (because it wasn't in English and I didn't know what it said). You are welcome to disagree with me or add another point of view. The only thing I expect is that all comments to each other be respect-filled.