re: Should She Leave the “g” in Regional Dialect?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice by

Dear Editor…

What is your opinion on the use of dialect? In my MG novel, I rely on it a lot. The dropping of the “g” in knowing, for instance. I need to show how these two girls talk.
Right?

Sincerely,

Robyn

Dear Robyn…

Dialect is ‘bout more’n playin’ with your spellin’. ‘sides, droppin’ the “g” is really jes writin’ an accent, and most o’ the time, writin’ accents is plain distractin’.

Okay, I gotta stop that, it hurts. But by exaggerating I hope to demonstrate how distracting spelling manipulation can be. And really, a dropped “g” isn’t distinctive. People all over America drop their g’s in casual conversation. It’s more important that you capture the unique turns of phrase and rhythms of the region. For example, “Go on, now” and “do tell” and “I lit out after her” send you to the South. Combine such distinct phrases with narrative clues like crab apple trees in the yard and nearby bayous and the like, and you’ll create a world—and that’s what storytelling is about. Consider this: “It’s all about Mama and her being a teacher and all.” You could write that as, “It’s all ‘bout Mama and her bein’ a teacher and all,” but why? Page after page of apostrophes can be as obnoxious as my opening lines above. Version 1 of the Mama line suggests a folksy region, and surrounding it with similarly styled dialogue and narrative details that suggest a specific place yields one smooth flavor that’s far more satisfying than tweaking the spelling in dialogue.

For an example of dialect that mines grammar and vocabulary rather than accent, read the middle grade novel Love, Ruby Lavender by National Book Award Finalist Deborah Wiles. That book oozes Mississippi without a single altered spelling. And good garden of peas, it’s just a good’un!

Happy writing!

The Editor

10 Comments

  1. Great question, and many thanks for a clear demo of the overused apostrophe. I’m glad to hear that setting and circumstance are the best ways to impart regional flavor.

  2. I use Cockney dialect in my latest novel: Roman Carnival. I think the use of dialect is oKay if the meaning is implied in the dialogue. I also use unusual words that often can’t be found in Websters, but can be found by Google

  3. Back in my college days, one of my profs told us that, indeed, eye dialect is very difficult to read if it’s overdone. But a few indications of the nuances in the speech are helpful in developing setting, however. A writer must pick and choose. As for the missing “g,” those who study southern Appalachian dialect understand that the g is not missing; it never was there. Authentic southern Appalachian dialect is closely related to Chaucerian English. I’m hardly an expert on dialects, but I’ve invested some time with this one, since I’m also a storyteller who tells the tales from highland oral tradition. One of my manuscripts for a middle-grade novel is set in southeastern Kentucky, so I use some eye dialect. I’m part of an excellent critique group through ACFW, and they’re quick to let me know if the southernisms become too cumbersome.

  4. A very good post and a very tricky technique to master!

    Does anyone know of any books that highlight a Texas accent/dialect well? I’m from Texas but I struggle with this. Of course, I think there is the possibility that much of what I write sounds like Texan and I’m just not aware of it. 🙂

    Anyway, I’m fixing to get back to my writing so I’ll see y’all later.;)

  5. Robyn, I think it’s fine if you drop the g when your characters are, like, “speakin,” and I suggest not punctuating it right-wise — e.g., speakin’. Hopefully, the value in differentiating like this is self-evident. But I’d only do it w/ quotes. Otherwise, keep your narrator in check. My two cents from the 3xbadlands, a novel set in the Deep Dirty South. Oh, check out Cormac McCarthy for other fun punctuation tricks and character tics.

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