Wednesday, December 7, 2011


A fair chunk of the manuscript I'm copy editing now is in dialect, so I thought I'd briefly discuss the topic.

I don't generally write in dialect.  I've been taught that it's distracting and doesn't add much to the story.  However, the manuscript I'm going over isn't something up for publication for the first time; it was first published in the '60's.  As I said in my earlier post, I'm about consistency, rather than "fixing" it to look the way I'd put it together.

Besides, I don't think it would fix this manuscript, to take away the dialect.  The piece I'm working on now is a collection of short stories, one of which indicates an uneducated narrator, perhaps from the deep South.  Another takes place in Maine.  Reading the dialogue, I can actually hear it in the voice of people I know from Maine.  It adds a layer of texture, another sense to experience within the story.  In addition to feeling the stinging cold of the blizzard, I'm experiencing the flat lilt of a Maine resident.

The question is, if I wasn't already familiar with it, would it be the same experience?  I don't know, but the fact that the story was previously published (at least twice) and left intact would indicate that's so.

Now, I wouldn't advocate overdoing it with dialect.  I think there are people who go for Southern, and end up sounding insulting or inscrutable.  The Southern narrator in the piece I edited breaks almost every rule of grammar, but I understood every last word of the tale, even understood why it was told through his voice.

In any case, I don't think I'm going to be writing my Boston characters' dialogue with dropped r's and other quirks (though I do drop in a "wicked" here and there), but I may experiment a bit more with dialect in the future.  I don't think I could do it to the same effect as the author I'm editing, but it's always helpful to have a good model to go by.

Do you write or read stories in dialect?  Do you find it distracting, or helpful?  Tell me your worst or best examples of dialect.

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