Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dialect in Dialog - How Much is too Much.

Here's a writing question I'm going to throw out there and see what kind of answers come back. I'm working on a story now that has some characters who, when speaking, would have a distinctive flavor to their words. There would probably be less than perfect grammar, a certain dropping of g's at the end of words ending in 'ing' and a lot of replacing the 'th' sound with 'd'.

But yet, I feel that if I use those constraints with every bit of dialog that I am over-doing it and it will get very annoying to read and seem too "in-your-face" if that makes sense.

On the other hand, if I only do that occasionally does it appear that I am inconsistent in the way the characters speak?

Right now I am using the occasional approach in the theory that a lot goes a long way, but that could easily change in revisions. I feel that it gives a flavor for the character's speech without becoming too much of a distraction.

So, opinions anyone? What's the best way to handle strong dialect in dialog?


  1. I think overdoing can definitely be distracting. If it can be accomplished in other ways, weaving those ways in can help, I think (i.e., instead of "I'm not goin' to do that," "I'm not gonna do that," sounds more realistic, you know?)

  2. Karen, I agree! That's why I've been trying to use it sparingly to give a taste of the language - but also don't want to appear terribly inconsistent.

  3. I love a real voice. And by that I mean that I love when the voice of the characters is true to how they are being portrayed. A guy from New York has to have a New York accent or else he 'ain't' from New York. The same can be said for a Southern Belle. That having been said, I also think it depends on the "voice" of the entire story. This, of course, is just the opinion of an avid reader. Grammatical correctness has its place, of course, but the telling of a good story trumps propriety.

  4. Chris, yes - I agree - real voice is important. But, at some point does trying to have text duplicate dialect become distracting?