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Dying over dialects, among other crazy things

“Dialect is heard with the eyes.It is one of the most contrived elements of fiction and must be handled well to avoid turning characters into superficial stereotypes.”

~ Patrika Vaughn

I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified, anxious, hesitant, but satisfied that I will be okay. Actually, more than okay. Tomorrow I start the Young Readers Writing and Illustrating Workshop. And while I do have concerns and questions, I feel confident that I will learn much and not be too humiliated.

While part of me wonders why I think I could ever write a book, I take solace in Sara Zarr’s answer as to why she became a writer. She actually offered several reasons: 1) like to write; 2) it’s something an English major can do once he or she graduates; 3) and this one is the BEST one – “when I met other authors and saw that they were people just like me, I decided I could do it.” (Not an exact quotation but I think it conveys the spirit of what she meant.)

On the other hand, I also chatted with an author who shook her head as she related that nearly everybody thinks they can write a book. Maybe most people COULD write a book, but that fact is most DON”T. But there sure are a lot of people who do. Just walk into The King’s English or one of the mega bookstores, and you’ll wonder, “How can I join and compete with ALL THESE WRITERS? Am I crazy to think I can?

So what else is freaking me out? The 5 pages I sent to my session leaders. It needed to be the start of a story/book AND it is supposed to be our best writing. Don’t know about that, but I sent it anyway because it was all I had, AND it needs work, AND I also question my use of dialect.

The first chapter is set in England, and I hear a British accent in my head when I write, but here’s the rub or rubS:

  • Never been to England.
  • Don’t know which accents come from where.
  • My attempt sounds more Irish than English.

So here it is, past midnight. And I decide to research how or if a writer should even try to use dialect in building characters. The advice I learned from Ms. Vaughn (quoted above) and Cameron Michaels is as follows:

  • Use SPARINGLY.
  • Write in standard English – NOT phonetically!
  • Cadence and rhythm suggest the dialect.
  • DON’T use “wanna, shoulda, coulda and oughta”.
  • DO use “wanna, shoulda, coulda and oughta”. (That choice gets mixed reviews.)

Has anyone who stumbles onto this blog ever experimented with writing dialect? What were the results? Stuck with it? Abandoned it? Rewrote story to include Americans without accents?

I’ll let you know what my colleagues and facilitators suggest after they read my characters’ British/Irish dialects. (Gulping. Crossing fingers. Heading for bed.)

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