Sunday 12 October 2014

Dialogue & Dialects...

Last week at Nottingham Writers' Club we had a mini-workshop on dialogue.

Now dialogue has never given me issues, description yes, but not dialogue. But we all have areas of difficulty in our writing, and it doesn't mean we won't improve if we work at it.

For those who may not know, dialogue can be used to display character, provide information, but it must help move the story along...

When I was a teenager and started writing, my stories were dialogue heavy- emphasis on heavy. :D

I was fortunate to be exposed to different accents as a child; visits to my Somerset or London relatives, and regular trips to Lewisham market with different cultures emerging (in the 1960's).

Television and Radio no longer restricts what we hear to 'received pronunciation' (old style BBC English), and with regional BBC programmes you'll hear a wider range of accents. Actors no longer have to lose their natural accents to guarantee employment either.

Consider how many programmes have used regional accents/dialects and been successful: 'When the Boat Comes In', 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet', and 'Rebus' among them.

But what about dialect in books?

There was a recent article in The Guardian online, 'A Difficulty with Dialect' by author Debbie Taylor. She wrote a book called 'Herring Girl' and was advised to get rid of the dialect before submitting- she said she went for the "dialect lite"option. She regretted how much she'd taken out when she read it out to an audience at a launch party.

At our workshop some of the attendees didn't favour limiting dialect. As an experiment one member spoke in his natural dialect, and while some understood, or were able to make a reasonable guess at what he said, others couldn't. But we all agreed that it was easier to listen to, but probably wouldn't have been if we'd been reading it.

Personally, I prefer the occasional word or phrase that the reader might associate with a particular accent, and paying attention to whether a slightly different sentence construction is characteristic of the natural speech.

There are resources available if you want to hear how people from different parts of the country sound. Here's a few:

British Library- Sounds Familiar?

The International Dialects of English Archive.

The BBC-Voices.

(These will also help with social history too.)

Even though I've lived in the East Midlands for nearly thirty years I still have my southern twang- long sounding a's in words such as glass and bath being the most noticeable. :-)

So what are your thoughts on dialogue, accents and dialect?



Teresa Ashby said...

I agree with you, Carol. Just the odd word or phrase here and there. I love it when my characters arrive with accents and I can hear them speaking in my head. Thanks for the links :-) x

Patsy said...

I enjoy writing dialogue and tend to use lots. I rarely give my characters strong accents or have them use any unusual dialect though as I find that irritating to read. The odd word or phrase when they're first introduced is often enough to allow us to 'hear' them speak in a particular way.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I usually try to limit dialect to a few words or phrases if possible, although some stories need a more than others. It's irritating to read great passages in difficult dialect. As for dialogue - I don't like too much as I love narrative fiction too.

liz young said...

Dialogue is a splendid way to move the story on without "telling", and if I've written a page without dialogue it looks wrong! Dialect is difficult - a twist in the sentence structure is okay but I think it's a mistake to use words only some people would understand. Yesterday I made a 'pan of scouse' - not everyone by any means knows what that is!

Carolb said...

I find it quite strange when I hear a character in my head that has an accent, Teresa, as I wonder how did my sub-conscious decide that's how they should sound.

Hope you find the links useful. :-)

Carolb said...

Yes, I agree with you, Patsy. Readers are very good at picking up the indicators to how the characters in stories sound.

Carolb said...

You're right, Rosemary. Long passages of difficult dialect is very off-putting.

Carolb said...

You're right, Lizy, I do not know what a 'pan of scouse' is. :-D

I think a page looks much better with some dialogue on it.