Friday, 26 March 2010

Why won't that character shut up!?

As I stated yesterday, I thought I would blog on a couple of complicated voices often found in dialog.

Stutterers / Lisps -Currently, I'm writing a mystery where one of the suspects stutters. In fact, I'm reading a mystery where one of the suspects stutters. So, I guess it's common to add stutterers to novels. However, do not get carried away. A person in real life may stutter over almost every word but your dialog doesn't need to.
What can you do?
Perhaps write one or two words in the speech as stuttered. Or, write correctly and add a tag: he stuttered.

People with accents/dialects - Have you ever read 'The Grapes of Wrath'? (See below) After reading that book in high school, for a month I spoke with a Southern accent.

Often writers tend to get carried away with writing in dialect. Can you imagine reading this for a whole novel? "Ah reckon ah don' haff ta go dowan tuh th' rivuh tuhday, 'cawse we gots awl th' feeush we gwine need." Yikes!
What can writers do? Well, if you're insistent on writing in the dialect, only use select and common words such as 'ya' for 'you' or 'an' for 'and'. Or, write in proper English but add 'she said in a strong Russian accent' somewhere. Most people know what a British or Russian or Southern accent sounds like, they don't need phonetic spelling.

Thank you, Charmaine from Wagging Tales
for your award. The Silver Lining Award.

Tomorrow, I will give it to three others...

Hmmm, also, if you're following me and for some reason I am not following your blog, let me know. I will correct that error immediately.


Jaydee Morgan said...

I couldn't agree with you more on both points. I like using a tag - it's simple and efficient.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Even in real life, it's rare for a person to stutter on every word. Commonly, certain letters, words, and positions in sentences/paragraphs may cause problems. Obviously, it gets worse when the person is nervous.

That's not a medical opinion, it's just what I've observed knowing a couple stutterers over the years!

(And yes, I follow you using NetNewsWire. Our blog is

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent advice. Someone speaking English as a second language is also difficult to write, if for no other reason than they rarely use contractions.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice. Dialogue can't be too real - or we'd never read the books! :)

Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

Really good advice! i just wanted to say that in 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian" the protagonist has both a stutter and a lisp (which he tells us at the beggining) but the author just continues writing 'normally' without distracting stuttering. I really like the way it was handled.

I've read a story where the author made a person speak with a scottish accent, and completely butchered the character to a point where i coudln't keep reading.

You're right though, i think there's nothing wrong with the 'ya' and that 'nah' or stuff that adds to the dialogue rather than takes away from it.

Linda said...

Thanks for this reminder--my novel is set in the south and I have a young man who stutters, but as he is also exceedingly shy (partially as a result of his stutter), I have tried to limit the dialogue with him. This post just reminds me that if I as a reader get bogged down with unwieldy dialogue, I as a writer need to edit better LOL

Ann Elle Altman said...

Jaydee, I tend to use that mostly too.

Laura, I checked and I am following your blog. You don't have one of those 'follower' gadgets but when I visited and clicked the 'follow' button at the top, it said I was following.

Carol, you make a good point. I often edit and review books by new writers and one beginner mistake is that they don't use enough contractions but it's true, when a foreigner speaks, often no contractions are used and an occasional word is placed wrong in a sentence.

Jemi, you're right. Thank you for your comment.

Audrey, I once read a book with a similar problem and you're right, it does ruin the book. I guess that's why having a good editor or reviewers can help.

That's right, Linda, I've read books where if dialog is too difficult, I just skip those part. But then, we miss out on the story.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

I can't imagine writing in a character who stutters-- just too much work. Whenever the topic of dialect comes up, two books come to mind. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Tales of Uncle Remus. Typing up those manuscripts must have been torture.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Karen, I agree. If I include a stutterer, he does very little actual stuttering except in my ear.


Anonymous said...

Ann - The question of how to integrate dialect and accents is a really important one. As a writer, you want to make sure your characters are distinct and have the flavor of their culture through their speech. However, you also don't want to distract the reader by writing in dialect.

Elizabeth Spann Craig does a terrific job, I think, with letting the Southern culture of her novels come through the dialogue without it being full of distracting dialect. For instance, her protagonist, Myrtle Clover, is known as, "Miss Myrtle." No dialect, no distracting terms, just Southern culture.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Margot, you are right. I read Elizabeth's book and at no time was I distracted by the dialect used. As long as a writer uses dialect wisely and sparingly, the reader will be able to spend time with the characters and plot and not spend their time trying to translate the work.


Christi Goddard said...

This is so funny. My MS has a stutterer and an Irishman. Yes, imma doing the accent.

Anastasia V. Pergakis said...

I find it really difficult to explain accents. My novels are fantasy and while the character may actually sound British or Australian in my head, I can't say "the elf said in a British accent" as in their word, there is to Britian! The problem is, I have no idea how to convey a British accent in speech! But I'm working on it. Hopefully I'll figure it out one of these days. Great post!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Christi, I thought you were going to tell me a joke. A stutterer and an Irishman walked into a bar...

Harley, my suggestion to you would be - read literature. GO to the library and find books with those who love to write with accents.


Talli Roland said...

Oh, how I hate reading books where the author has written dialogue in dialect. It really distracts me - I find myself puzzling out the letters rather than going with the flow.

Great post and advice!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Great information. Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book. It does have great dialect.

Unknown said...

You bring up relevant points about writing in dialect. It can be a real balancing act between capturing the quirk of a character through his dialogue, and turning off the reader. There's nothing more frustrating than having to reread passages because I couldn't decipher what the character said.

Stuttering is an aspect of this discussion I hadn't considered before. I think, in addition to the occasional "he stuttered" tag, including a-a-a stutter early in select spoken lines will remind the readers of the speech problem without overwhelming them.

Best of luck with it!

Please stop by my blog today if you have the chance; I left you a little something there!

Jan Morrison said...

I think it works when it works and it doesn't when it doesn't. How's that for helpful! This is when your first readers come in handy because I know that I can get infatuated with a dialect which doesn't mean I'm doing it right. I like to use just a little - more idioms than dialect and I think that could work with a stutterer too. Have you read Jonathan Letham's Motherless Brooklyn about a guy with tourette's syndrome. He does it all the way through and it is amazing and wonderful. So if you're genius - ya sure ya kin puhl it off by but ya better really come on to 'er, my dear. (south shore, nova scotia - not brilliant!)

Ann Elle Altman said...

Talli, that's why a writer shouldn't over do it. You don't want to break up the flow of your work.

JW, GofWrath is one of my favorites too. John Steinbeck is an amazing writer.

Nicole, thanks for your comment and I agree. I will be over to check out your blog.

Jan, good advice. :) I haven't read the book you've mentioned but I will be sure to check it out.

Southpaw said...

This is a great topic. Constant dialect I have to decipher while reading or every other word-d-d wwri-t-t-in' wif a st-t-tuter-er can ruin the flow of a story. I like to hear how others handle it too.

Harvee said...

The Grapes of Wrath is a great novel and I loved the movie with Henry Fonda too. It bothers me though that it's required reading for many high schools where the students need to read standard English and not dialect, to improve their own speech and writing. I'd much rather they teach A Tale of Two Cities or Oliver Twist, even though those are British lit. What do you think?

Book Dilettante

Aubrie said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! When people write in accents it slows down the reading for me. (even more than stuttering) It's hard to know how much of a person's accent to put in. Good point.

Susana Mai said...

Thank you! I really can't stand it when authors get carried away with dialects.

Nishant said...

That's not a medical opinion, it's just what I've observed knowing a couple stutterers over the years!
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