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Introducing Dialect To Your Dialogue

February 26th, 2016

vanity-fair-blogLast week I announced the winners of our Short Story Competition and I hope you’ve found time to read their stories. This week I can announce that our 2016 Flash Fiction Competition is open for entries.

There are three prizes:  1st £300; 2nd £200 and 3rd £100 and the winners also receive a Writers Bureau course of their choice each worth over £350. The entry fee is £5 per story or three stories for £10. The theme is open but your story must not exceed 500 words (excluding the title). The closing date is 30th April, so you’ve plenty of time to enter.

This week I’ve got a confession to make – I love Lancashire dialect poetry. Just look at this one called ‘Owdham Footbo’ by Ammon Wrigley. He was a poet and local historian who lived in ‘Owdham (Oldham) in the second part of the 19th Century. Over 100 years after it was written, any keen football fan can probably understand and empathise with what he’s saying.  And if you really need a translation I’ll be happy to supply it next week!

It’s run an’ jump an’ hop an’ skip,
An’ sheawt hooray, an’ hip, hip, hip,
It’s singin’ songs an’ eytin tripe,
An’ suppin’ pints at single swipe,
An’ brass for th’ wife to buy a hat,
An’ th’ childer brass for this an’ that,
An’ beauncin’ gaily op an’ deawn,
Yo’ connut find a merrier teawn,
When Owdham’s won.

Aw lost mi brass, awm crabbed an’ croot,
Aw lifted th’ cat eaut wi’ mi boot,
Awr ne’er as mad i’ o mi life,
Cleautin’ th’ kids an’ cursin’ th’ wife,
Awm sure mi brains han left mi yed,
Ther’s nowt to do but goh to bed,
At six o’clock o’ th’ Setturday neet,
They’re o i’ bed i’ eaur street,
When Owdham’s lost.

In the Writers Bureau Creative Writing Course we advise against making your characters speak with a strong regional accent because readers can find it difficult to follow and may give up on your story because of that.

It’s far easier if you merely mention that a character spoke in, say, a Geordie accent and let the reader do the hard work for you. Most readers know what a North East accent sounds like and will subconsciously hear the dialogue in their heads. You can help the process along by dropping in the occasional dialect word – but only enough to give credibility. Your Geordie only has to pronounce the word ‘about’ as ‘aboot’ and you’ve created the impression of an accent.

Sometimes you can get away with merely using the rhythms – the unique speech patterns – of an area. ‘She’s a right menace, is our Beryl’ sets your novel in the North West of England, but ‘You’ll not be going out tonight, will you?’ takes you several hundred miles further north to the Scottish Highlands. It’s not vital that you accurately recreate exact speech patterns, just that you capture enough of the spirit of any area’s vernacular for people to recognise it.

And after saying all this – rules are there to be broken. I’ve recently been re-reading two books at different ends of the spectrum: Vanity Fair by William Thackeray and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Here’s a paragraph from each. The first introduces us to an Irish Major’s wife – Peggy O’Dowd;  the second needs no introduction. Both are heavy on the dialect, but both are a delight!

“Sure, I couldn’t stop till tay-time. Present me, Garge, my dear fellow, to your lady. Madam, I’m deloighted to see ye; and to present to you me husband, Meejor O’Dowd”; and with this, the jolly lady in the riding-habit grasped Amelia’s hand very warmly…

Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae’s behaviour is outside its mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ah sound mind, ectetera, ectetera, but still want tae use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir ain failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whut they huv tae offer…

I’m not advocating that all writers should start including impenetrable slabs of dialogue in their stories. Probably the best advice I can give is to follow our guidelines while you are learning your craft – you can only afford to break them when you’re a true master of it!


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