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Five tips for writing dialect, eh.

May 1, 2012

Bob: Do, like, our theme, eh?

Click here for the theme.

Bob: Okay, so g’day. I’m guest blogger Bob McKenzie and this is my co-guest blogger Doug.

Doug: How’s’t goin, eh?

Bob: Okay, so like our topic t’day is di-lects.

Doug: Take off. It’s die-elects. Like what people in the states will do this year. They’ll like die, eh, or elect a President. Die-elect. Hosehead over there thinks he knows everything, eh?

Bob: Take off, you knob. Okay, so when you write, like dialects, or even like, y’know, like speech patterns, eh, don’t like overdo it too much, cause people’ll get horked off an like boycott your book. So that’s that fer t’day. So g’day!

Bob and Doug McKenzie were fiction Canadian redneck brothers created by SCTV’s Rick Moranis (Lewis Tully in Ghostbusters!) and Dave Thomas (not the burger guy). If you’re a juvenile guy who’s into that kind of thing–and I still am–they were humorous. They also spoke with an exaggerated Canadian dialect, which was funny on SCTV, but not so much if you have to read it.

Dialects are definitely a place where less is more. Here are some tips:

  1. Tell, don’t show. This is a place where you might break the normal rule. Dialect gets in the way and can be difficult to read. You can make your point by saying, “Doug spoke in a dialect Chris remembered from a Canadian professor he had in college, including replacing periods, question marks, and exclamations points with eh.” You can also set the stage in your description of the character. For instance, if your character has a deep southern accent, he can wear jeans and a NASCAR t-shirt or a seer-sucker suit.
  2. Let other people react to the dialect. “Holy cow, he sounds like Colonel Sanders.” That one observation, or something more humorous, can do the job for the entire book. Then again, if your readers have no idea who Colonel Sanders is–and a lot of younger people don’t–you’re lost.
  3. Use the dialect a little more heavily when you introduce the character, then back off. For instance, if I were to really write Bob and Doug, I’d lay the faux-Canadian on for a bit, but then back off, with an occasional eh.
  4. Remember that dialect isn’t just saying words funny. Odds are very good that you’ve never heard someone called a knob. Or a hosehead. If you aren’t familiar with those terms, you’ll trip on them. Same with your writers with things you’ve written.
  5. Let someone else read your book and see if they get it, and if the dialect gets in the way.

Beauty.

Do you have any tips?

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