In today’s Journal
▪ Adios Robert
▪ Topic: Voice (and some stuff on dialect)
▪ Daily diary
▪ Of Interest
▪ The numbers
Yesterday, my friend and I spent a full day and evening visiting, reminiscing, philosophizing, swapping lies and generally just shooting the bull. It was a great time.
This morning, though, I got up a little late and Robert had already left. Robert, if you decide to go home via I-10, I hope you’ll give me a call so we can at least meet in Benson for lunch or a cup of coffee. Either way, thanks for the visit and for stopping by.
Topic: Voice (and some stuff on dialect)
Recently I received via email a short excerpt from a book that was published by a UK company.
The excerpt is very rough, with missing or omitted words, foreign words (to an English language reader), or in the alternative, English words to a native-language reader.
That’s the excerpt on the right. Take a moment to look it over:
Now here are a few questions:
▪ Did you read the excerpt smoothly, straight-through the first time?
▪ Based only on this excerpt, would you buy this book?
▪ Based only on this excerpt, would you flip through to find other excerpts to read to see whether the author’s voice changes?
My own answers to these questions were No, Absolutely not, and Maybe, since apparently the cover was enticing enough to make me pick up the book in the first place.
In fact, I probably would select three or four excerpts and read through them just to see whether the voice changed.
But if the voice didn’t change, no way would I buy this book.
Because I’m reading to be entertained, not to go back and try to decipher the writer’s voice or figure out what the narrator is trying to say or what’s going on.
My job as a reader isn’t to “figure out” anything in the writing (as opposed to “in the story”).
For example, in a mystery story, I might be tasked with figuring out who done it. But if I find myself struggling to understand what the writer’s trying to communicate in her writing, I won’t bother. Not my job.
In an action-adventure or thriller, I’ll have certain subconscious expectations, many of which (if the writer did her job) will be twists and I’ll be wrong. Again, that’s fine.
But if I have to go over a sentence more than once to try to figure out what the writer is saying, again, I won’t bother. In fact, I shouldn’t even notice the sentences or the paragrpahs.
I should mention, the above excerpt (obviously, I hope) is dialect. And that’s fine.
But even when writing dialect, less is more.
The writer’s job is to evoke the reader’s interest, pull the reader into the story, and give the reader pleasure. Like the song says, “That’s entertainment.”
The writer’s job is NOT to make the reader work to understand what the writer is trying to say. The moment the reader’s focus shifts from being entertained to working, he’ll close the book and find something else to do.
While I’m on the topic of dialect, here are a few traits of good dialect:
1. Using words in odd juxtapositions because of the character’s misunderstanding of the finer points of the language.
For example, a native Spanish speaker says in English he wants to “fill up” a job application (instead of “fill in” or “complete”). It’s difficult to do this too much, and it’s an excellent way to indicate dialect.
2. Omitting or making-up or changing words, such as (from the excerpt) “On the day I born” (omitted “was”) or “Rediffusion” (made up) or “enjoy he (his) good fortune.”
This can be a good technique, but ONLY if it isn’t overdone. Use this technique sparingly.
3. Phonetic spellings, such as (from the excerpt) “mih” for “me” or “my.” Again, this can easily be overdone and is labor-intensive, so use this technique sparingly.
4. Truncated words, those like “feelin'” or “gov’ment,” in which you insert an apostrophe for the missing letters in the shortened word.
This can be a good technique, but it’s definitely labor intensive. If you aren’t a perfectionist, you might want to skip this one, or again, use it only sparingly.
When using truncated words and phonetic spellings, the writer has to decide not only which words a particular character will ALWAYS truncate or spell phonetically (there will be some), but also which form (phonetic or truncated or “correct”) a particular character will use in each situation.
For example, 11 year old Billy might say “gonna” most of the time when talking with his peers. At other times (like when he’s being nagged to complete his homework or a chore, or to other people, like his mother), he might say a calm, “I’m goin’ to, Mom” or a more emphatic, “I’m going to, Mom.” And in those last two examples, you might choose to italicize “goin'” or “going” or add an exclamation point for further emphasis.
Now back to the excerpt…
I mentioned some of the dialect in the excerpt threw me. On the other hand, later, having gotten more or less used to the dialect, the writer’s use of “this” threw me too. Why didn’t the writer replace “this” with “dis” (or should I have written “this’ wit’ dis”) and stay with the dialect? Was this a conscious decision on her part, or did she just slip?
And why in the last line of the excerpt was “She feeling [‘]round” instead of either “feelin’ ’round” or “feeling around”?
These last two are instances in which the “proper” or English usage threw me out of the dialect. In the earlier examples the dialect threw me out of the English that my mind wanted to read, as established in “On the day I (was) born, overhearing….”
Writing dialect is a tightrope.
In many ways, writing well also is a tightrope.
Your job as a writer is to communicate a story with the intention of entertaining the reader. At the point where you make the reader “work” to get through what you’ve written, the you have failed – and I don’t mean “failed to success.”
And you’ve probably lost a reader.
Rolled out late at almost 4 after a leter night than I’m used to.
I didn’t look at email at all yesterday, so this morning I played catch-up. I wrote a long email to a tutored writer on a topic she asked about, then plowed through emails, responding, checking PWW and another blog, and eventually finding things for “Of Interest.”
Took a break up to the house at 6 for a shower, breakfast and to arrange my meds. Finally back to the Hovel a little after 7 to write the topic above and do a few other things.
Back to the house to help with laundry, wash and put away a few pans, etc. then back to the Hovel to correct a few things.
Finally to the novel at 10:30.
Lazy day today. I did finish a very strong scene, so I’m happy with that. Back to full form tomorrow.
Talk with you again tomorrow.
See “Business Musings: Taming The Critical Voice” at https://kriswrites.com/2019/04/24/business-musings-taming-the-critical-voice/.
See “The State of the Mystery: Part 1 of a Roundtable Discussion” at https://crimereads.com/the-state-of-the-mystery-a-roundtable/. Chock full of gems to be mined by all writers.
See “The State of the Mystery: Part 2 of a Roundtable Discussion” at https://crimereads.com/the-state-of-the-mystery-part-2-of-a-roundtable-discussion/. Ditto.
See “You’ll Never Get it ‘Right.’ Accept It.” at https://terryodell.com/youll-never-get-it-right-accept-it/.
See “Reading Stories” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/reading-stories/. A couple of valuable hints here about process. Or defending your process. Or not letting anyone else into your process.
Fiction Words: 1026
Nonfiction Words: 1230 (Journal)
Total words for the day: 2256
Writing of Blackwell Ops 6: Charlie Task (novel)
Day 10… 3212 words. Total words to date…… 25902
Day 11… 2123 words. Total words to date…… 28026
Day 12… 1964 words. Total words to date…… 29990
Day 13… 1026 words. Total words to date…… 31016
Total fiction words for the month……… 41073
Total fiction words for the year………… 258874
Total nonfiction words for the month… 29690
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 106760
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 365634
Calendar Year 2019 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2019 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2019 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 42
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 193
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31