Writing in dialect

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On Wednesday I was lucky enough to see Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell in conversation at the Royal Festival Hall, London. They covered many writing-related topics and one which particularly interested me was the use of the vernacular when writing. Ishiguro commented that he thought Mitchell very bold in the way he totally embraced the language and dialects of his characters, something that he seemed more reticent to do.

I must admit that this is something I’ve always shied away from when writing, I’m not sure why, possibly due to a worry that I’ll get it wrong. However, in the recent NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, one beta reader suggested that I give my characters different voices as it helps keep them separate and adds interest. I read this woman’s story which was excellent, partly due to her ability to use dialect, although I noticed that a few other readers didn’t like this aspect of it, I think because they felt it slowed down the story as they didn’t understand some of the words. I’d love to know what others think.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Writing in dialect

  1. Personally, I never find dialect a distraction (although Trainspotting was almost unreadable as it seeped into the entire text) but I do think less is more when it comes to novels. Just a sprinkling gives the reader the desired impression, almost acting as a description, without it getting to the point where more focus is spent deciphering the words instead of the importance of the conversation.

    It’s a tricky one because I think the best dialogue is the sort that if read aloud could be taken from a secret recording hidden in the room. To remove all accents removes authenticity but too much makes a natural conversation feel like hard work for the reader.

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    1. Yes, I guess it’s finding a balance and also considering your target reader. A man from Newcastle who’s a member of my online writing circle has written a number of short memoirs on his life in Newcastle, and as he’s primarily writing for people from there, he writes in dialect. I understand it as I was brought up there, but some of the Americans in the group struggle (!). He does it so well though that I think he gets away with more rather than less.

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    1. Thanks! For me it depends on how familiar I am with the dialect. I think we’re exposed to so many different accents and dialects (in the UK), that not too many are unintelligible. I feel that I need the courage to try and use a little in my next story.

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