Editorial Note: I realized I’m giving hints on how to do this, but my tips will only work for novels set in current time. It wouldn’t work for historical fiction unless you can get old recordings. Apologies for the blanket presumption that all my readers are writing a novel set in the 20-teens.
D is for Dialect
My current WIP is set in Ireland and with Ireland comes…. well, you know, accents. “Get away from me Lucky Charms!” (I am SO kidding!) They do speak differently, though. So how does a writer get that right? Especially a writer with limited funds? How does a writer get a dialect down without sounding gimmicky and distracting the reader?
One way I’ve learned to get the dialect down is to listen. Listen how? The internet is a beautiful thing sometimes. I play local radio stations on my phone. It’s better if you can find talk radio, something like NPR here (RTE1 is awesome for Ireland) so you can hear the exchanges between people, what they call certain things, and how they explain things.
For example, when the host of a show takes a call on RTE1, the first thing they say to the caller is “You’re very welcome.” It means, you are welcome to speak, welcome to be in this conversation. It’s not a conversation-ender like it is here in the States. [Please/Thank You/You’re Welcome] I’ve also learned (from visiting there) that it’s what you say to anyone visiting. A shopper comes into a store, the owner says “You’re very welcome.” A guest arrives at a hotel, the innkeeper says, “You’re very welcome.” Where I’m from, we just say “welcome”, but if the landlord in my story greets my MC with “welcome”, it won’t be authentic.
If there isn’t a talk radio station, try to find a music station. The deejay will talk eventually. You’ll get a feel for the kind of music most folks listen to there, and I find the commercials useful, too, because I learn what kinds of events appeal to their community and what kinds of products are lining the store shelves.
Listening to the radio also helps me know how common the stereotypical accents are. For instance, I presumed that in Ireland, everybody’s TH sounded like a T, but I was wrong, it’s somewhat regional and it seems it’s not something as common in professional circles, they enunciate the TH a bit more. I’ve also learned the most common stammer (for those of us stateside it tends to be um) is em.
A sidenote on dialect– I decided when I started writing this novel that I wouldn’t be trying to write the accents. I wasn’t going to “tirty-tree and a tird” my way through the novel. For one, I stink at that, and two, unless you’ve got some mad dialect skills, it’s distracting to me as a reader, and I sure as heck didn’t need more reasons for people to shut my novel and walk away. So, I decided to stick with the way things get said. I’d rearrange phrasings and use their words for things.
Along the same lines, I follow Twitter feeds based where my story is set. They’re mostly newsy but it gives me an idea what folks are talking about and what kind of things make people there gasp with shock, and what gives them warm fuzzies.
Another way to get a dialect down is to read it. I’ve started reading books either written by authors from where my story is set, or novels set there.
The best way, of course, if you’re pocket book will allow it, is to go to your setting. And, for an introvert like me, it’s the easiest part of travel. I can sip on my coffee and get an earful.
On the editing end, I go back to my handy voice-recorder. My ear tells me when something is generic or authentic. Unfortunately, it’s tedious.
What about you? Have great tips on dialect? Let me have them! I’m curious to know both how you “keep it real” and on how you edit for dialect.
Here are some handy links on the topic:
The Do’s and Don’ts of Dialect (if you’re not following K.M. Weiland, you should. good stuff)
For some fun, check out the Tumblr accent challenge on YouTube.
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