October 9th, 2012, 12:13 PM
Bleedin', tryin' and other in's
So, I'm hard at work on my story, set in a sort of weird wild west setting. I want to make the conversations have that type of feel, but I'm not sure if readers may tire of the constant 'ain't's and 'hey mister, you're bleedin' that would probably be in a lot of the dialog.
Opinions? I feel like I need to be consistent, so if I have a character talking like that, he'll need to talk that way throughout. I'm just not sure if it would be too much for a reader to have several characters talk like that.
October 9th, 2012, 12:38 PM
I'm also encountering this issue, and handle it by not getting too deep in the contractions that every other word is shortened to the lingo. Just enough to separate the character from the rest and keep him/her consistent.
After awhile, I suspect the reader will take the language in stride, but like any fine spice, you don't belabor it.
October 9th, 2012, 12:40 PM
it could be worse
Hmm, I think I saw advice on this somewhere else, but I just finished the Map of Time and I am currently reading The Dead of Winter and in both the characters talk funny throughout. I got used to it. As long as you are consistent throughout, I don't think the reader will tire from it. I think what would bug me more is it switching back and forth. Of course, you might have some characters with a heavy accent and others with not so much of an accent, just based on their background. Even so, they should remain consistent throughout your narrative, because readers will pick up on it if their accent suddenly changes.
October 9th, 2012, 04:34 PM
That's along the lines I was thinking, so that's good to know. Thanks for the suggestions! I think that as long as the characters are consistent in the way they speak, the reader should take it in stride.
OT: What the heck happened to the forum?
October 9th, 2012, 04:53 PM
Originally Posted by Wulfen
Well, I can' talk from a whole load o' experience but talkin' like this ain't uncommon 'round these parts f'r me. A lot o' people do cut the ends off sentences and miss words out, an' if you wanna reflect natural conversation then maybe you'll fink abou' maybe writin' like someone talks, 'cos it's pretty common f'r the common folk t' short-'and fings like this
October 9th, 2012, 06:29 PM
Stories employ verisimilitude, the seeming of reality, rather than actual reality.
So in dialogue, for instance, you use just enough of a sub-culture's distinctive verbal style to give the flavor of their speech. But not so much that your readers get bogged down in details. As in acting, underplaying is usually more convincing than overplaying.
October 10th, 2012, 01:36 AM
You don't need to make every word in every sentence in dialect -- you just need to drop enough of it in there for the accent to become identified with the characters. Perhaps not every character speaks in heavy dialect, but maybe use certain idioms to show their accent. All things being relative, reserve the inflected dialogue for the most heavily accented characters, and lay it on thick for them, sparingly for others.
Doc Jones sounds like, "Well, it never did occur to me consider such a thing." (adapted version of "Well, that never occurred to me," localizes the speech)
Sheriff McUnterson sounds like, "Well, it never occurred to me to have such a consideration" (slightly different inflection, suggests an accent/education level)
Swampy Joe sounds like, "Weil, ne'er 'curred a me ta considerate such a thang." (oh yeah, hillbilly baby, and lends a heavier accent to the other characters by proxy)
Most of your average citizens would like sound like Doc or Sheriff, and Swampy is a crazy mofo who only shows up at key times and reinforces the western-ness.
October 10th, 2012, 02:47 AM
bingley bingley beep
You can do a lot with word choice or order as opposed to phonetics, and they can give as much flavour of a dialect as any amount of dropped letters.
Reading phonetic dialogue can get tiring/annoying pretty darn quick - the reader often has to work hard to 'translate' what you're actually saying. Though it did ok in Trainspotting....Basically if you're a genius it might work. I prefer to assume I ain't a genius!
October 10th, 2012, 02:48 AM
Worth pointing out, I feel, that Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen King do this really well in their books.
October 10th, 2012, 03:31 AM
I think this is the way to go. It's also worth considering whether you are writing first person or not; if you are, then an excessively localised voice might make it a drag for the reader, unless you're very good at rendering it. I'm touting a weird western short at the moment and I made the 1stPerNar of better than average education, partly so I wouldn't have to litter the entire text with dropped g's, aint's, etc. After trying the dialogue both ways, I wound up not using a "wild westernised accent" much at all; I figured that such a person, when reporting his story, would unconsciously clean up the language of others to some extent. Instead I tried for a slightly archaic-formal tone throughout. I think it worked, though selling it is not proving easy so far. A little too niche, so slush reading times are dragging me out.
Originally Posted by Fung Koo
October 10th, 2012, 09:52 AM
We Read for Light
I'll offer one more insight: We're entering a true international market in which one's books, especially e-books, will be sold to readers with varying degrees of comfort with the English language. Many of these foreign readers will depend upon translation programs for assistance. The more we use dialect, the more we put our work beyond the reach of non-native speakers of English. I agree with the above comments in which it is suggested that we limit our use of dialect to the bare minimum.
October 10th, 2012, 10:10 AM
This fills me with sadness...
The thing is, idiomatic expression is hugely important in writing, and it's a fairly advanced skill anyway. Even in basic texts, like a fairly simple and straightforward restaurant review, there are loads of small cultural assumptions that don't translate, even in plain English -- nevermind when it's flowered up.
I get the idea of being concerned about losing a potential market, but I don't think artistry or expression should suffer because of it. In the end, most readers will read something produced in their native language and culture by first preference, or translated into their native language by a professional who can capture that artistry reasonably well.
October 10th, 2012, 10:20 AM
I'm not laying it on too thick at the moment, but I definitely want to be careful about pushing it too far. I don't want to alienate readers, or annoy them, but I think regional dialects have their place in a story like this, so I'm not planning on taking them out. Certain characters will have more of a 'twang' than others, and my main worry will be making it consistent with the character while still making it readable. Basically, if it helps to capture their voice, then I'll keep it; if not, out it goes.
Thanks for the input!
October 11th, 2012, 08:06 AM
There are two ways to go with this, one harder to pull off than the other. Obviously, if you have a narrator, he will tend to use standard English, unless he's portrayed as having poor literacy skills. So the vast bulk of your text will be in standard English, except when some people talk. Leaving the odd g off the end of a word and so on isn't really going go be a problem, unless you insist on making huge portions of your text phonetically portray the way people actually sound. Which standard English doesn't normally do - if somebody has a slight lisp, would that be transcribed in writing, unless you were going for a comic effect?
The thing to remember is that words like "ain't" are in fact words, whether they're official dictionary English or not, so a character who speaks this way consistently is expressing himself naturally, and the reader will hear his voice in their head. Likewise, dropping the last letter from "going" leaves you with a word that is clearly comprehensible and tells you what kind of accent this person has. Readers will not worry about this sort of thing. What might become annoying to them is if your characters persist in speaking in an excessively rustic fashion which you render phonetically, meaning that the reader has to constantly stop and think about what the word they've just read means. This is precisely equivalent to printing large chinks of text in a hard-to-read typeface.
You might also consider that, in the same way that blue-collar and white-collar workers don't necessarily speak in the same way, well-educated people in the Wild West spoke a form of English vastly more formal than we speak today. Wyatt Earp, for example, would in normal conversation have used perfect grammar in a way that would seem painfully artificial today, and been almost Shakesperean in his phraseology (all the most ridiculously stilted phrases in the movie Tombstone are direct quotes from the people who actually said them).
By the way, in case you don't know, "cowboy" was a term of abuse (the fact that the word includes "boy" says rather a lot). It was a derogatory phrase referring to people in low-status employment, used ironically among actual cowboys in the same way that you're allowed to say "nigger" if you are yourself black. The worst way to insult a cowboy was to call him a "cowpoke". That was the job given to elderly wino cowboys who were too useless to do anything else. What a cowpoke actually did was this. When cattle were being transported by rail, after standing still for a certain length of time, they tended to go to sleep. Unfortunately, if the train hit any kind of bump, the shock would be absorbed perfectly by cattle standing upright, but if they were lying on the floor with bent knees, it might damage their legs. So you paid some worthless bum to ride in a boxcar full of noisy smelly cattle constantly emitting flops, and prod them with a stick whenever they tried to lie down.
So basically your whole gamut of western characters would realistically speak in different ways, depending on their level of education (this might apply especially to Native American characters, who, if they were sufficiently well-educated to speak perfect English, may very likely have learnt it from a missionary who used no cuss-words at all; so a very smart Indian might talk like the King James Bible; or alternatively, he might use wildly exaggerated slang, but in a curiously formal way because he assumes that's how all white people talk all the time). As another poster commented, authors like Stephen King sometimes use dialect in a way that gives their characters a unique voice without being unreadable. BUt the two things to remember are, firstly, not to dump overly large lumps of it on the reader. A few lines, or even a whole paragraph of fairly mild dialect tells you that this guy is a bit regional. A page of it tells you that the author is just trying to make things difficult. And secondly, don't overdo it even on one word! To quote a mainstream example (though you'll find a huge amount of this sort of thing throughout 19th and early 20th-century literature), Bram Stoker's rather well-known novel Dracula assumes that anyone smart enough to read books will find barely-coherent working-class pronunciations of common words hilarious. It took me quite a while to catch on that "bloofer" is allegedly how people with less money than Bram Stoker pronounce "beautiful" (since he was writing over a century ago, this may actually have been true then, but it's still a bad idea to put it in writing). Extremely obvious things such as dropping the g, or in the case of Charles Dickens, observing that lower-class 19th-century Londoners tended to use w instead of v, give your characters a voice without giving the reader extra work, so by all means use them.
There is of course the second option of going the whole way. For example, A Clockwork Orange is written entirely in made-up slang called "nadsat", loosely based on Russian. The British edition does not include a glossary, yet it's perfectly comprehensible (the American edition includes a glossary against the author's express wishes, because the American publisher assumed that all Americans were stupid). This is a fantastic trick to do if you can pull it off. But since almost nobody can, it's probably a bad idea.
October 11th, 2012, 08:26 AM
That's interesting stuff, Vinegar Tom. And, if you don't mind me saying so, "Vinegar Tom" would be an excellent name for a fictional cowpoke...