One of the things I warn people against is overdoing dialect in your writing, and by this I mean using so much it becomes impossible to follow what characters are saying. You see it from time to time in books and it can be a turn off. I think the last one I read like this was on the Commonwealth short list — but it was written by a South African and it was a great book, I just struggled with the dialogue sections — but perhaps this was more my ignorance. Although it did make me think how sometimes writers get the voice in the dialogue but if the same narrator is there throughout it needs to also be in the thinking parts, right?
I think the trick is to get the natural rhythm of language using key expressions used in the dialect. I used the scouse in Learning to Fly and since I am very familiar with this I think it worked.
When I wrote While No One Was Watching I did a lot of research to get Lydia’s African-American Vernacular right. Initially I didn’t have it quite as strong as it is now, tending to capture more the nuances, but it was on the advice of an agent, who was interested in the novel for a while, if I was going to do it — I had to do it properly. And remember I was using the first person narrator. So that meant not only capturing the rhythm (and not the stereotype, i.e. what I thought it ought to sound like as British white girl) BUT being consistent in how it was used and using it correctly throughout. She recommended I look at books like The Help and the The Color Purple (had read these!) although here the dialect is even stronger as it’s a generation or two back, and I tended to use this for when Lydia quoted her parents or when she was in moments of greatest tension. I also had to listen (and there are some great dialect libraries where people read the same quotes from a book in different dialects across the US) to the nuances specific to the Dallas accent and here I tended to use expressions from that like ‘I’ll be fixin’ to’ to mean I’ll get ready to … etc. It was something I had to work really hard on, seriously!
It’s amazing the amount of work that goes into trying to get this right.
So, I read with interest this morning the first 1 star review (yay I now have a full house! But out of 42 reviews, since 32 are 5 star and 7 are 4 star) I ain’t complainin’!!! And her comment was how she found it impossible to read Lydia’s sections because of the dialect. Interesting. Luckily no one else felt this way, but it just shows how varied opinion is and of course we are all entitled to our opinions. I am just sorry she feels that way. I don’t expect she would enjoy The Help either (or maybe she did a lot better?) but given its success (I love the book and the film) I don’t think it hindered it too much! In fact a little ditty here — on an Arvon course I met the commissioning editor at Fig Tree Press who had just signed Kathryn Stocket. I loved the sound of it even then, and looked out for it. At the time I had written Colourblind so was interested more in the handling of the subject matter.
Anyway that side I appreciate all feedback — I just find it interesting how varied it can be. And so I thought I’d mention dialect in today’s post.
What have you read where the dialect was a hindrance?
I did critique a short story once what was very Manchurian but so much so I needed a phrase book and I advised to rein it in so the reader felt the great qualities of it but didn’t wonder what it meant. I think sometimes dialect is easier to hear than see on the written page. That said I think we are so familiar with the US accents we don’t have a problem with that, listening to it that is. I can see how it’s written form might not be so easy.
As I am sorting the Hollywood book shop that seem to be interested in a book party in 4 weeks’ time I am wondering how my reading of Lydia will go down. Since most people there will be friends I think I will bite the bullet and just go for it!!!
Interesting thread about dialect in this Goodreads discussion: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/863799-dialect-and-accents-in-classics
Have a great week y’all!