Struggling with dialog

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ClaraHadden
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Struggling with dialog

Postby ClaraHadden » Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:40 am

Hi,

As a native of a different language, I've decided to challenge myself by writing in English. This is hard enough, but I have faith that with a good editor's help I can still produce something that's readable and enjoyable for a native English speaker. I am however finding it extraordinarily difficult to write one character's dialog. I planned him to be working-class and talk "chav" (I've made a point of not using that word in my draft as it's so offensive, but just so you see what I mean) but he's supposed to be sympathetic and likeable. He's sort of a chavvy sterotype that turns out to also be a quantum genius (that's the catch). He's also one of the three main characters, so he features heavily in the story, and the way he speaks is meant to be the first hint we get about his social status. I want the reader to "hear" him speak and instantly go "oh, right".

I'm utterly failing at it.

The funny thing is that I've lived in Britain for three years. I know how "chavspeak" sounds. I could recognise it everywhere. I could even fake it (not for long though - my foreign accent still shows). But I can't write it.

It's somehow not enough to write [i]innit[/i]? or [i]proper[/i] at the end of every sentence. It's definitely not enough to fill my dialog lines with apostrophes instead of final T sounds (which is also exhausting). It just doesn't ring true.

Now what I guess I'm asking is, maybe there's some good author out there that I could read that has really managed to convey chavspeak into written form? For example, I love Terry Pratchett's dialog lines and how they clearly show what variety of English the character speaks without having to actually explain it. Maybe there's something similar about working-class English? It has to ring true, not just a parody.

Thanks in advance. If you're having a similar predicament to mine I'd love to read about it to, so I know that I'm not alone :)

Clara

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ostarella
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby ostarella » Tue Jul 11, 2017 9:39 am

I would advise you the same way I always advise about writing dialects - don't. The reason I say this is two-fold: One, if you aren't "native" to the dialect, you will inevitably get something wrong; Two - and more importantly - it's extremely difficult to read, even if you know what all the words/connotations mean. I've read many of Mark Twain's books, and while I love the stories and the social commentaries they carry, I HATE reading the dialects. Twain is one of the slowest reads I have ever encountered.

So instead of writing the dialect, throw in a few common words, make note of how other characters (major and secondary) react to his 'class', maybe even have someone mention it. It may sound like cheating, but it's really doing what one always does with dialog - cheating. ;) Even writing non-dialect dialog, we don't write how people actually talk. We don't put in all the "like, um" or "uh" or the constant rephrasing and repetitions, etc. We give readers a taste of how the character talks and otherwise we want the dialog understandable versus "authentic".

Last, consider what percent of your readers will actually know what that dialect means for the characterization. I had to look up "chav". I have no idea what the different classes or neighborhoods or areas of dialect are in England, and when I'm reading a novel, I don't really care. I need to know that he's from a "lower class" but brilliant - that gives me a starting point. After that, everything I need to know comes from the story, not the dialect.

ClaraHadden
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby ClaraHadden » Wed Jul 12, 2017 2:46 am

Ostarella, thank you for your reply. I'm interested, how would you feel about reading non-dialect dialog that does include some dialect words like "aye", "innit", "fink" (instead of thing) or the occasional "bovver" (instead of bother)? Would you find that difficult to read?

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ostarella
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby ostarella » Wed Jul 12, 2017 7:59 am

[quote="ClaraHadden"]Ostarella, thank you for your reply. I'm interested, how would you feel about reading non-dialect dialog that does include some dialect words like "aye", "innit", "fink" (instead of thing) or the occasional "bovver" (instead of bother)? Would you find that difficult to read?[/quote]

That's what I was saying above - give us the flavor by sprinkling in some words. All readers won't recognize where the character is from, and maybe not what those words mean re: character's background, but they'll understand it's a dialect/slang and that's good enough in most cases. (Although I'm not sure about the "fink" instead of "thing". The rest one can easily make the connection between dialect and "real" word, but that one could be confusing.)

ClaraHadden
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby ClaraHadden » Wed Jul 12, 2017 8:04 am

Thanks for you advice, I'll give it a try!
Last edited by ClaraHadden on Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Noizchild
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby Noizchild » Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:20 pm

Is slang okay?
You ask me what I thought about
Before we were lovers.
The answer is easy.
Before I met you
I didn't have anything to think about.

-- From "The Love Poems of Marichiko"

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ostarella
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby ostarella » Wed Jul 12, 2017 11:10 pm

Slang is fine in dialog, as long as one doesn't go overboard. The idea is to get the point across - in an interesting and entertaining manner, but the point needs to be understood.

Slang and dialects are kinda like putting a foreign phrase into your work. Agatha Christie, for example - and one of my favorite authors - loved to put French phrases into her mysteries. What non-French speakers understood was that either a) the character was exclaiming with excitement or vexation, or b) they (the reader) had just missed an important clue. :( So I would stick with either widely known slang or words that are easily understood in the context.

One also has to remember that not all slang becomes part of the "mainstream", so you may be unnecessarily be dating your work. If the setting needs to be a particular point in time, no problem using the appropriate slang. If you want it to easily fit anywhere in an extended period of time, not so good.

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Noizchild
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Re: Struggling with dialog

Postby Noizchild » Sat Jul 15, 2017 7:39 pm

[quote="ostarella"]Slang is fine in dialog, as long as one doesn't go overboard. The idea is to get the point across - in an interesting and entertaining manner, but the point needs to be understood.

Slang and dialects are kinda like putting a foreign phrase into your work. Agatha Christie, for example - and one of my favorite authors - loved to put French phrases into her mysteries. What non-French speakers understood was that either a) the character was exclaiming with excitement or vexation, or b) they (the reader) had just missed an important clue. :( So I would stick with either widely known slang or words that are easily understood in the context.

One also has to remember that not all slang becomes part of the "mainstream", so you may be unnecessarily be dating your work. If the setting needs to be a particular point in time, no problem using the appropriate slang. If you want it to easily fit anywhere in an extended period of time, not so good.[/quote]

It would also help to learn more of it so you don't end up using the same word over and over.
You ask me what I thought about
Before we were lovers.
The answer is easy.
Before I met you
I didn't have anything to think about.

-- From "The Love Poems of Marichiko"


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