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On dialog...

EzzyB

I recently got an e-mail from a reader who is also a writer. He explained that he liked my stories, but had a list of some 40+ corrections.

I knew what was coming, so before he sent the file with the corrections I tried to head him off at the pass.

I explained that as far as I was concerned, dialog both spoken and internal was a "free fire zone." It's kind of like Vegas, what happens there, stays there. Almost no one, least of all a bunch of teenagers from South Georgia, speaks perfect English. They have nuances, slang, dialect, and just plain laziness in their speech. If that's the way I envision them speaking it, that's exactly how I write it.

I was surprised to get a reply completely disagreeing. This person seems to believe that most people speak and think in grammatically correct and perfectly pronounced (and thus perfectly spelled when written) English. Not that their is such a thing as perfect English, we have style guides to try to define just what flavor of English we're working with on a given day.

It just makes no sense to me. I pointed out that we had both probably read numerous stories where the dialog was so formal that it was wooden and unbelievable. Still he persists that I'm wrong.

Thoughts?

awnlee jawking

@EzzyB

I think you're right, but only up to a point. No matter how true to life the characters' dialogue might be, you still have a duty to make it comprehensible to your readers.

AJ

Replies:   REP
REP
Updated:

@EzzyB

You could try having the person rewrite a couple of passages in your story that they feel are wrong, and then critique their version and tell them why you feel it is wrong.

Probably wouldn't work. It sounds like their ego is involved and they will never admit to being wrong. If so the only thing you can do is say thank you for the input but I'm the author so I will do it my way. If you don't like that, then go write your own stories.

edited to eliminate my gender assumption.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

@awnlee jawking

It sounds as if EzzyB is saying the person is saying the grammar is not correct, not that the passages are not understandable.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@REP

While that's probably the case, EzzyB also mentioned "a bunch of teenagers from South Georgia" having "nuances, slang, dialect, and just plain laziness in their speech." Fair enough, but an author should be prepared to tone it down if it becomes too obscure.

AJ

Replies:   REP  Crumbly Writer
REP

@awnlee jawking

to tone it down if it becomes too obscure

That is true, but the question is who should decide if it is too obscure: the author or the reader.

According to EzzyB in this particular instance, the reader (an author) is essentially saying - I don't like nuances, slang, dialect, and just plain laziness in the dialog I read. You have to conform to what I think is the proper way to write dialog.

Replies:   awnlee jawking  Zom
awnlee jawking

@REP

I also think that's what the reader/author is implying. And that's why I said that EzzyB is basically right.

As for who decides what's right, that's up to the author and their assessment of their target audience. If the vernacular is too idiosyncratic, many SOL readers will drop the story and give it a poor score.

AJ

Replies:   REP  Ross at Play
REP

@awnlee jawking

All true.

In this case the reader should drop the issue and move on. But it sounds like the reader continues to bash EzzyB for not doing what they are telling EzzyB to do.

Zom

@REP

who should decide if it is too obscure: the author or the reader

I suspect the reader always decides, and different readers will decide differently.

Perhaps an author should aim to make dialogue 'too obscure' to as few readers as reasonably possible, whilst maintaining the desired speech characteristics.

Clearly, from EzzyB's experience, it is not reasonably possible to have dialogue obscurity pitched low enough for some readers.

His correspondent is just plain wrong, by the way.

Replies:   REP  awnlee jawking
REP

@Zom

True as to what the author wrote. Although when I wrote that passage, I was thinking of what the author should write in their current and future stories. The author should do what they think is right for the story.

awnlee jawking
Updated:

@Zom

Clearly, from EzzyB's experience, it is not reasonably possible to have dialogue obscurity pitched low enough for some readers.


The fact that the reader/author had a long list of corrections suggests they actually understood the dialogue, so it couldn't have been that obscure.

AJ

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@EzzyB

You're right; he's wrong. Dialogue represents the way the character speaks. But don't bother arguing. Simply tell him to read the beginning of Huck Finn. Written in 1st-person, the narrative is basically dialogue.

Crumbly Writer

@EzzyB

It just makes no sense to me. I pointed out that we had both probably read numerous stories where the dialog was so formal that it was wooden and unbelievable. Still he persists that I'm wrong.

Thoughts?

You're always going to get that, as many of us speak pretty decent (formal) English to begin with. One of my earliest and most persistent criticisms is that my characters all speak to intelligently for their age/background, simply because that's how I've always spoken and how I'm used to people speaking.

Thus, when someone like that see 'nuanced English', they're going to see it as being unrealistic. While having characters speak in a particular accent of regional usage, you run the risk of alienating readers who aren't familiar with it (as well as those who are, but who find it either inaccurate or an insulting simplification). That's why many authors don't include those types of passages.

When they work, they often work wonderfully. But when they don't, they can really stink!

Crumbly Writer

@REP

Probably wouldn't work. It sounds like their ego is involved and they will never admit to being wrong. If so the only thing you can do is say thank you for the input but I'm the author so I will do it my way. If you don't like that, then go write your own stories.

A better approach to saying 'You're wrong', is to tell them "Thank you very much, but the dialogue you're suggesting isn't true to the character, and doesn't allow the readers to get a feel who who they are, thus hurting the story. While his dialogue isn't proper, it serves as character development and thus advances the story.

Sometimes saying "No" simply boils down to selecting the right way to phrase it.

Replies:   EzzyB
Ernest Bywater

@EzzyB

As long as the dialogue accurately represents the character and the meaning is clear, the dialogue is a free fire zone where just about anything goes. The only place I draw the line in dialogue is when people misspell words so they come out with an accent when spoken aloud, where you can dot his with the meaning clear, go ahead, but some people butcher the words too much and it's very hard to work out what they mean for the character to say.

The syntax of languages differs, and when you have someone speaking English as a second language they will often do so with the syntax and word order of their original language, especially when they get excited. Thus you can get such things as, "Knowing this, you are, I'm sure, my friend." This aspect comes back to such syntax activities as Mont Blanc = White Mountain etc.

I've read all you're posted at SoL Ezzy, and they're all good dialogue. Thus, I say you should tell him to "Smeg off."

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

While that's probably the case, EzzyB also mentioned "a bunch of teenagers from South Georgia" having "nuances, slang, dialect, and just plain laziness in their speech." Fair enough, but an author should be prepared to tone it down if it becomes too obscure.

That's why I've always cautioned, when using accents and regionalisms, you load up the first paragraph, so readers get a feel for the character's speech, but then cut it WAY back, only throwing in a few 'pet phrases'. That's just enough to remind the readers that they have an accent, but keeps the rest of their dialogue readable and understandable.

There's nothing worse than a beautifully written story that no one can finish because they can't understand the dialogue.

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

If the vernacular is too idiosyncratic, many SOL readers will drop the story and give it a poor score.

This comment is not directed at EzzyB. I assume his dialogue is comprehensible to readers.
I'm simply agreeing with AJ that writing in the vernacular can be pushed too far.
* * *
There was one Man Booker Prize winner I bought, but never got more than a few pages into. The dialogue was all phonetically spelt in a Caribbean accent.
I don't care how good the story was, I wasn't going to struggle to make sense of it.

REP

Since this reader is also an author, it would be interesting to see how they handle character development. Do they simply say, John X speaks with a Southern accent, uses slang and colloquialisms, but always speaks in a grammatically perfect manner. (Yeah, I know that is a conflict.) :)

sejintenej

I agree with the majority on this question. Any story is in a location and involves people from specific backgrounds. You do not want a Kentucky hill-billy or redneck speaking Oxbridge English with a cut and polished accent - they should use local speech subject always to it being comprehensible to the majority of readers.
Not sure (liar) if EzzyB's reader would make a good editor

graybyrd

@EzzyB

This person seems to believe that most people speak and think in grammatically correct and perfectly pronounced (and thus perfectly spelled when written) English.


The anal retentive will always be among us. Dialogue is how your characters speak; they're your characters, so write it their way. The only real concern is to avoid letting dialect interfere with comprehension, but that's not the case as you describe it.

awnlee jawking

@sejintenej

Not sure if EzzyB's reader would make a good editor


If he's got as good a command of spelling and grammar etc as he seems to think, there are a number of ongoing stories that need a lot of help. Even some with above average scores. It would be a shame to discourage anyone with decent editing skills.

AJ

Replies:   ezrick
Michael Loucks

@sejintenej

I agree with the majority on this question. Any story is in a location and involves people from specific backgrounds. You do not want a Kentucky hill-billy or redneck speaking Oxbridge English with a cut and polished accent - they should use local speech subject always to it being comprehensible to the majority of readers.


Exactly. My characters from North Georgia speak like people from North Georgia. My erudite Chicago characters speak proper English (or at least my version of it!). I suppose I could bring in Mayor Daley and have him murder the English language as he always did...with links to actual, verifiable quotes!

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@Michael Loucks

I could bring in Mayor Daley and have him murder the English language as he always did


May as well, there's definitely not enough murders in Chicago. (Just a teeny bit of sarcasm there, I'm glad to now be far away from that place.)

Or have Harry Carey go at it with Don and Roma. (Man, I miss those folks!)

Replies:   paliden
paliden

@StarFleet Carl

I suppose I could bring in Mayor Daley and have him murder the English language as he always did...with links to actual, verifiable quotes!


Why not. I understand he is still voting. LOL

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@paliden

I understand he is still voting.


So is Mrs. O'Leary's cow.

Somewhat back on the original topic ... dialogue is just that, what we speak. If I'm writing a technical paper or giving a technical presentation, I'm going to be pretty formal in my word choice and commentary. Grammar and word choice matters greatly.

If I'm just talking to my friends, then "Whacha doin?" is perfectly acceptable and understandable. No need to ask "What are you doing?" Anyone who doesn't think real people talk that way needs to pull the corncob out of his anal orifice.

Replies:   Dominions Son  Grant
Dominions Son

@StarFleet Carl

So is Mrs. O'Leary's cow.


No, Mrs. O'leary's cow isn't allowed to vote. Felony conviction for arson. :)

Grant

@StarFleet Carl

If I'm just talking to my friends, then "Whacha doin?" is perfectly acceptable and understandable. No need to ask "What are you doing?"

Yet reading "Whacha doin?" and similar over & over again gets old very quickly. "What're you doing?" is more than appropriate, and less tedious than reading formally written dialogue; but even that is orders of magnitude easier to read then endless slang or regional/dialect dialogue.

Anyone who doesn't think real people talk that way needs to pull the corncob out of his anal orifice.

If you want a wide readership, you need to keep in mind readability for that wider audience. If the target is only those that speak that way, then it's not an issue.
It's not about whether people speak that way, it's about what is readable.
Anyone that thinks the majority of people like reading endless dialect/slang needs to pull their head out of their anal orifice.

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@Grant

It's not about whether people speak that way, it's about what is readable.
Anyone that thinks the majority of people like reading endless dialect/slang needs to pull their head out of their anal orifice.


Oh, to a certain extent I agree with your comment - but that's not what I said. Go re-read my comment.

And also, since it's all about the immersion (or it should be, the mental picture you have in your mind of the story as it proceeds), it can become not just necessary but VITAL that dialogue is written in the local vernacular.

Now, what I see done frequently in first person writing is the main character struggles to understand what the secondary character says for a few lines, then the author has them mentally translate so that for the reader the dialogue becomes legible. But many times in third person, the dialogue stands because it has to - the character demands it.

awnlee jawking

@StarFleet Carl

it can become not just necessary but VITAL that dialogue is written in the local vernacular.


I disagree. While I fully support the use of vernacular by those authors who are good at it, I think telling a good story is far more important. Otherwise there's no hope for writers like myself ;)

A quick perusal of the recently updated serials shows that those scoring over 8.5 routinely have all their adult characters speaking with the same voice.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

Without pointing any fingers at anyone I wish to point out there are two major uses of the word vernacular in story writing.

The more general usage I was taught in school etc. is the term Vernacular English referred to the use of everyday spoken English in story writing as against the use of Formal English in story writing. Thus the grammar rules were a little looser and the use of contractions was allowed. The majority of my stories are written in the Vernacular Style as per this meaning. This applies to both the dialogue and the narrative.

The other usage of Vernacular Writing is what I was taught to be called Colloquial Dialogue and only relates to the dialogue. In this you format the words and grammar to reflect how the person speaks in the dialogue and only the dialogue. This is where you get the conversations like:

On seeing his cousin Mark round the corner Jim said, "Yo, Bro. Howz dey hanging? Is dat dude you waz workin' on yestadee gunna live?"

Mark shrugs, and replies, "Don't know. He's the hospital's problem now. But you know what his chances are after being beat up by the guys in that area. I only ride the ambulance and try to keep 'em alive until they reach the doctors at the hospital."

Both the above are in the Vernacular Writing Style while the first dialogue is in the Colloquial Dialogue style to reflect the way the less educated people speak in that area, as against the way the paramedic speaks.

edit to add: In the example above I have to agree the Colloquial Dialogue is required to reflect the character. However, the meaning is still clear.

Replies:   REP  Bondi Beach
REP

@Ernest Bywater

the Colloquial Dialogue style to reflect the way the less educated people speak in that area, as against the way the paramedic speaks.


In certain areas of the US, and possibly other countries, a Colloquial style (e.g., Valley Girl/Valleyspeak) is adopted by highly educated people, so they fit into their locale. Apparently they believe, or at least suspect, that speaking otherwise will result in their being ostracized by their peer group.

Ernest Bywater

@REP


In certain areas of the US, and possibly other countries, a Colloquial style (e.g., Valley Girl/Valleyspeak) is adopted by highly educated people, so they fit into their locale. Apparently they believe, or at least suspect, that speaking otherwise will result in their being ostracized by their peer group.


That's a common activity to fit in with the herd. However, I made the post i did to clarify the difference between Colloquial dialogue and vernacular writing, because some of the other posts were starting to blur the lines a lot.

Replies:   awnlee jawking  REP
awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

In the UK we distinguish between Formal and Informal English. Both your meanings of vernacular are covered by Informal, but our usage of vernacular corresponds to the subset of Informal English corresponding to your Colloquial Dialogue.

AJ

Replies:   sejintenej
REP

@Ernest Bywater

Okay.

I find why people create and adopt behavioral patterns interesting. It seems to me that they are usually trying to express their individualism or to protest some aspect of their society.

While I can understand joining a group as a form of protest, I cannot understand their attempt at expressing their individualism by conforming to a group's behavioral pattern.

Ernest Bywater

@REP

While I can understand joining a group as a form of protest, I cannot understand their attempt at expressing their individualism by conforming to a group's behavioral pattern.


Human behavior activities aren't simple, however, the basic is to confirm with the herd, which is why mob psychology and marketing work. The next level is when someone wishes to rebel against a particular person or group they look for another herd that's diametrically opposed to the herd they wish to rebel against, then they comply with the new herd. There is the very rare individual who can walk to the beat of their own drum and will ignore all the herds; but most of them end up collecting a bunch of followers and create a new herd of their own. And thus you have the simplified version of a 100,000 word psychology text book.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Ernest Bywater

I know. What I was going on about is how anyone can think they are an individual when they join and conform to herd mentality.

Ross at Play

@REP

I cannot understand their attempt at expressing their individualism by conforming to a group's behavioral pattern.

My understanding is that, in evolutionary terms, humans are only an eye blink away from the time when people conformed to the norms of their tribe because they didn't want to be sent away when food starting running short. It's the 'instinct for survival' still coming through in a complex society where survival is no longer an issue.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
EzzyB

@Crumbly Writer

A better approach to saying 'You're wrong', is to tell them "Thank you very much, but the dialogue you're suggesting isn't true to the character, and doesn't allow the readers to get a feel who who they are, thus hurting the story. While his dialogue isn't proper, it serves as character development and thus advances the story.

Sometimes saying "No" simply boils down to selecting the right way to phrase it.


This is kind of how I tried to explain it to him. Characters are no more and no less than their dialog, mannerisms, and actions. Heck even one character, from the great unwashed North, often slips poor "Southern" dialect into her speech as an affectation.

Another character actually has three different modes of speech depending on his audience, we all do this to some degree, talking to your peers, talking to children, talking to parents, etc. I try to reflect those audience specific nuances in dialog as well.

I won't say the guy is badgering me, or berating me because of it, its just I've had these conversations before and everyone else seemed to "get it" at least to some degree.

Ezzy

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
ezrick

@awnlee jawking

If he's got as good a command of spelling and grammar etc as he seems to think, there are a number of ongoing stories that need a lot of help. Even some with above average scores. It would be a shame to discourage anyone with decent editing skills.


Hehe, I think I'd absolutely let him edit my narrative, as long as he kept his mitts off the dialog. :p

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

over 8.5 routinely have all their adult characters speaking with the same voice.


That's not good, but isn't really what the OP is about.

Do they speak in perfect English? Or do they speak partial sentences, leave out the subject, have run-ons, etc.? Unless the character is a stuffy English professor, characters (people in real life) don't always speak in correct grammar.

Grant

@REP

I cannot understand their attempt at expressing their individualism by conforming to a group's behavioral pattern.

Just look at all the individuals that look like all the other individuals (Punks, Emos, Gangstas etc).

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

And also, since it's all about the immersion (or it should be, the mental picture you have in your mind of the story as it proceeds), it can become not just necessary but VITAL that dialogue is written in the local vernacular.

Correction: It's not vital that the characters every utterance is the local vernacular, only that the readers gets a taste of how the character speaks. If you want to lose readers, you'll fill the story with unreadable vernacular. If you want to engage readers yet keep the story interesting, you establish the characters in the first couple paragraphs, then back off the vernacular, only reminding them of how he speaks every now and then.

You don't want to exhaust your readers, merely give them a taste of how the character's sound. Just as you don't describe the local vegetation every paragraph, you also don't need to provide descriptive elements (vernacular) every quote from a character.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@REP

In certain areas of the US, and possibly other countries, a Colloquial style (e.g., Valley Girl/Valleyspeak) is adopted by highly educated people, so they fit into their locale. Apparently they believe, or at least suspect, that speaking otherwise will result in their being ostracized by their peer group.

It's been demonstrated (via research) that people not only adapt accents they may not be familiar with when speaking to others, but that they also modify their breathing, so they each take a breath at nearly the same time just to show empathy with whoever they're speaking with.

Of course, this little detail is useless in writing a fictional story, but it gives a feel for how important colloquial speech is. However, the reasons for it don't extend to readers and individual characters.

Again, a little of something is better than too much, so allow the readers to understand how someone speaks, then revert back to a more understandable style.

docholladay

Avoid the 50 dollar and up words as a rule. Keep them as basic as possible so every one can understand. Those high value words are great to debate with professionals or professors, but will lose readers who have lack the understanding for the higher value words. Use them only when a simpler word or phrase will not work. If the same information can be given with a 2bit word then use the 2bit word.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Grant

@Switch Blayde

Unless the character is a stuffy English professor, characters (people in real life) don't always speak in correct grammar.

Captions in foreign films aren't a direct translation of the speech of the actors. The captions may be more or less formal depending on the character, but they are never in the Vernacular.
They want as many people as possible to be able to follow the dialogue and story- so having correct grammar & punctuation makes that possible.

What we have here are books, written words.
Writing dialogue all the way through the story the way certain people speak will result in a greatly reduced readership.
If you're only interested in having that group as readers, go for it. If you want a wider audience then you need to write dialogue that is easy to read.
Have the first few lines of dialogue as full blown vernacular to show how the character speaks, but then tone it down so the reader is still aware of it, but is also able to easily read the dialogue without having to try & covert it to something they can understand.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

you establish the characters in the first couple paragraphs, then back off the vernacular, only reminding them of how he speaks every now and then.


I don't agree. As a reader I would consider that an author error, being inconsistent. If your character speaks a certain way, they should always speak that way.

But it's more than vernacular or accents or whatever that is. It's the way a character structures a sentence and the words they use. In my WIP, the Russian mob characters use the F-word a lot. I had one of the prostitutes using it as well, but then took the F-word out of her dialogue. I didn't want her to be in the same class as the gang members. But since she ran away from home as a teenager, her grammar isn't too good, using "ain't," double negatives, etc.

Grant

@StarFleet Carl

Oh, to a certain extent I agree with your comment - but that's not what I said. Go re-read my comment.

The original post is asking about written dialogue, not about how people actually speak but how it should be written.
I did re-read your post several times before and when responding, and since then. It may not have been what you meant, however it is what you said; I even copied & posted the quote.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

That's not good, but isn't really what the OP is about.


I'm uncertain about that.

The OP mentions slang and dialect. The top serials don't have their characters using those, although they usually have the characters speaking decent, grammatical English. However it's not perfect English in the formal sense, and there are sentence fragments etc. If there are run-ons, I have the impression they're a mistake by the author rather than deliberate - how many authors here have a perfect grasp of grammar? Not me!

AJ

awnlee jawking
Updated:

@Grant

Have the first few lines of dialogue as full blown vernacular to show how the character speaks, but then tone it down so the reader is still aware of it


I'm not convinced.

When reading Ernest's example I was able to understand it, but only after my reading speed came to a dead halt while I converted the vernacular to English phraseology I'm familiar with. It was hard to read. As well as not ejecting people from a story, authors should also worry about interrupting the flow of a story.

AJ

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

My understanding is that, in evolutionary terms, humans are only an eye blink away from the time when people conformed to the norms of their tribe because they didn't want to be sent away when food starting running short. It's the 'instinct for survival' still coming through in a complex society where survival is no longer an issue.

Again, there's more to it than is first apparent. Much of this behavior is an attempt to relate to the speaker. Thus people tend to emulate other people's speech, their breathing, their eyebeats and their hand motions. That demonstrates that the listener understands what the speaker says, which helps establish social ties, but it also makes the speaker more likely to take the listeners concerns seriously.

Thus it's not as much as 'following everyone else' as it is 'making yourself more relatable', so you become part of the 'in crowd' for as long as you need to make your point. You don't need to join them, but you accomplish more if people can relate to you.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@EzzyB

Heck even one character, from the great unwashed North, often slips poor "Southern" dialect into her speech as an affectation.

Give my previous post, that would work more efficiently if you (the writer) highlight how strange such behavior seems, to drill home how the character is adapting their behavior to win temporary acceptance. Having the person they're talking to agree with them will produce the 'ah ha' moment for the readers.

Another character actually has three different modes of speech depending on his audience, we all do this to some degree, talking to your peers, talking to children, talking to parents, etc. I try to reflect those audience specific nuances in dialog as well.

That might be more difficult for readers to follow, so you've got to be careful with it (i.e. clearly establish the context). It makes sense that you simplify your speech when talking to children, or with professionals at work, but many readers will find a character changing from 'everyday' speech to 'business executive speech' disconcerting, as it reflects an author 'not quite getting' who the character is.

You often need to decide, is it worth losing readers to establish a relatively minor point. If it is, then try to diminish the negative effects.

Crumbly Writer

@ezrick

Hehe, I think I'd absolutely let him edit my narrative, as long as he kept his mitts off the dialog. :p

He-he. "Tremendous edits on the narrative, and I understand your points in the dialogue." Then you just hope he never reads the final story. 'D

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That's not good, but isn't really what the OP is about.

Do they speak in perfect English? Or do they speak partial sentences, leave out the subject, have run-ons, etc.?

I'm sorry, but no one wants "realistic" dialogue. If they did, every piece of dialogue would be stuffed to the gills with phrases like "um", "uh" and "huh". Instead, readers want stories that flow.

Awnlee's point isn't someone being a 'stuffy English professor', but is focused on keeping the story moving, rather than getting bogged down in unnecessary details.

It's fine to use colloquial speech, but you can't let it overwhelm the story. It's like paprika, if you pour it over the entire dish, it'll taste like shit and prove you to be a newbie chef. However, if you apply it carefully to taste, you not only make for a delicious meal, but you establish yourself as an established storyteller, knowing how to 'flavor' their story with personal insights without overpowering the readers.

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

Avoid the 50 dollar and up words as a rule. Keep them as basic as possible so every one can understand. Those high value words are great to debate with professionals or professors, but will lose readers who have lack the understanding for the higher value words. Use them only when a simpler word or phrase will not work. If the same information can be given with a 2bit word then use the 2bit word.

It's fine to include necessary words that best fit a sentence, but you need to be aware of the potential risks. Thus, when you include them, you've got to provide enough context so readers will understand the definition without having to look the word up in the dictionary. No one wants to stop a story mid-sentence, just to look a word up. That's a sure way to lose readers. But I've found that readers appreciate accurate details, so using 5th grade words when describing complex situations is ridiculous. However, readers still need to understand what's happening.

By the way, the only 2-bit words are either "zero" and "one", is possibly "yes" and "no". (That statement is exaggerated for effect, as those are actually 1-byte words, but I trust you get the point.) 'D

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Thus people tend to emulate other people's speech, their breathing, their eyebeats and their hand motions.

I agree people instinctively do those things. My point was they evolved from our survival instinct.
Rejection by our tribe may not result in physical death anymore, but we still behave as if it does.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

Rejection by our tribe may not result in physical death anymore


It still can. There are more than a few suicides that are ultimately driven by such rejection.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Rejection by our tribe may not result in physical death anymore, but we still behave as if it does.

D.S.'s point aside, my point was that mere survival is not the driving force here, rather it's an attempt to better communicate with both friends and enemies. As far as joining an outside group, what better way of strengthening a shaky alliance than adopting their 'uniform' (see those wearing baseball hats, despite their not representing any particular baseball team).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking


When reading Ernest's example I was able to understand it, but only after my reading speed came to a dead halt while I converted the vernacular to English phraseology I'm familiar with. It was hard to read. As well as not ejecting people from a story, authors should also worry about interrupting the flow of a story.


Which is why i try to avoid having any characters with that distinctive type of speech patterns and colloquial dialogue. But I don't have everyone speaking exactly the same, either, and only the English prof speaks like an English prof.

Regardless of all that I've a work in progress where I have a note in the Foreword saying:

This story is a bit different to what I usually write. I'm going to write in US English spelling, because all the characters, and thus the narrator too, are US born characters. It's set in the mid 1800s, but I'm not going to use the slang and speech style of the period, mainly due to the story covering a number of dialect areas where I've not the knowledge or the experience to get them all correct. Better to just write it using today's English, and to warn you all about it first, than to get it wrong.

...........

I feel it's better to admit defeat than to screw up the story.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

my point was that mere survival is not the driving force here

We might need to agree to disagree here.
I was not talking about mere survival. I was talking about what happens to the survival instinct when mere survival is no longer an issue. We haven't lost that instinct - it just drives us to do different things now. It is the instinct I see as driving the instinct to form cooperative relationships with others.

StarFleet Carl

@Crumbly Writer

It's fine to use colloquial speech, but you can't let it overwhelm the story.


Okay, I think I probably wasn't clear earlier. It felt like one of the points being stressed was that you could never use speech such as this, which is what I was arguing against. You can, as you point out here. I felt that the argument was against EVER using them, and I thought I was arguing that you can and should do it. I just forgot to include what you said here, that it shouldn't be all the time.

If for no other reason than not only have authors on here done so (BarBar in Bec, for one), but many of the dead tree authors I read do so as well.

"I understand," that well modulated voice drawled, "that it would be appropriate for us t' offer an additional loyalty toast this evenin'." He smiled at Abigail. "Since it would never do t' insult or ignore the sensibilities of our Grayson allies, Ms. Hearns, would you be so kind as t' do the honors for us?"

"I trust," he continued, "that the rest of my officers will recognize the need t' be suitably sensitive t' the courtesies due t' our many allies. And t' the desirability of respondin' t' them properly."
- David Weber, The Service of the Sword

That's how Captain Michael Oversteegen talks, with his Grayson drawl. The whole story isn't written that way, but this character is, throughout the whole story. That was the point I was trying to make, albeit poorly. If you establish someone talks in a certain way, you need to be consistent through your writing that's how they talk.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@StarFleet Carl


If for no other reason than not only have authors on here done so (BarBar in Bec, for one), but many of the dead tree authors I read do so as well.


"Ulysses" is the classic case most referenced, as it's probably the most acclaimed novel that few have ever finished (because of the damn phonetic spelling!).

The whole story isn't written that way, but this character is, throughout the whole story. That was the point I was trying to make, albeit poorly. If you establish someone talks in a certain way, you need to be consistent through your writing that's how they talk.


This is one instance where I don't favor consistency, else you end up like Ernest and never using phonetic dialogue. Instead, you start with it, so readers get a feel for the language, then revert to 'normal speech', with a few key phrases so readers don't forget that he's speaking colloquially. The consistency comes in how you approach it, rather than in always showing every nuanced turn expression.

sejintenej

@awnlee jawking

In the UK we distinguish between Formal and Informal English. Both your meanings of vernacular are covered by Informal, but our usage of vernacular corresponds to the subset of Informal English corresponding to your Colloquial Dialogue.

We also have three forms of formal English depending on circumstances. I was pleasantly surprised that, in Dman3, Cold Creek got the Royal form right. All we need now is the Ecclesiastical form.

Replies:   Grant
Grant

@sejintenej

All we need now is the Ecclesiastical form.

"Dearwey bewoved, we are gathwered here today to join this man and this wowman in howy matrimowny..." Peter Cook comes immediately to mind.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej
Updated:

@Grant


"Dearwey bewoved, we are gathwered here today to join this man and this wowman in howy matrimowny..." Peter Cook comes immediately to mind.


You omitted "Cuddley" Dudley Moore or should I write "we need moore Moore".
More seriously, the forum has the thumbs down icon but it really needs a thumbs up or ROTFL icon

Fraxo

I sometimes send feedback on stories when I discover spelling errors etc. I'm not trying to be noisy or a smart-ass, just helpful. I know that sometimes things slip through unnoticed.

I have been told sometimes that the dialogue is supposed to be gramatically incorrect due to the character's age.

Some elements of slang or accent is okay, but to me it can be a disturbing element and take focus away from the story.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Fraxo
Updated:

That aside, I've been told again and again that my dialogues is too gramatically correct, and no teenagers speak that way...

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Fraxo

I have been told sometimes that the dialogue is supposed to be gramatically incorrect due to the character's age.

Some elements of slang or accent is okay, but to me it can be a disturbing element and take focus away from the story.

I don't modify spellings to account for age, though I try to select simpler language and phrasing. However, I'd never change punctuation based on a character's age, because they either know how to pause mid-sentence (at the proper places) or they don't know English.

However, I have featured people who don't understand English. In a number of sci-fi stories I have aliens who are either just learning the language or who simply don't care, only bothering to learn the basics so they can hurl insults, so their speech is severely limited. However, to counter the taxing effect of those 'NPC' characters, I keep their speeches brief.

Crumbly Writer

@Fraxo

That aside, I've been told again and again that my dialogues is too gramatically correct, and no teenagers speak that way...

I've always had difficulty writing 'age-specific' dialogue, mainly because I was already speaking in complex sentences, much as I do now, back when I was 13 or 14, and I see no reason to have 18-year-olds speaking at a lessor level. I'll simplify phrasing, but I refuse to render my characters—however unlikeable—as relative morons.

Bondi Beach

@Ernest Bywater

On seeing his cousin Mark round the corner Jim said, "Yo, Bro. Howz dey hanging? Is dat dude you waz workin' on yestadee gunna live?"


I'd stop reading when I got to this sentence. I've no idea what dialect it's supposed to be, but if I were the author and were crazy enough to try I'd spend a lot of time listening to African-American street talk before I attempted to imitate it.

Or Caribbean talk, perhaps. "Death in Paradise," especially the first two seasons, might be a good resource, although most of the "St. Honoré" natives don't have quite as thick dialects.

"How dey hanging"? Really?

bb

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Bondi Beach


"How dey hanging"? Really?


Blame Hollywood and New York shows, as well as shows like Cops.

sunkuwan

I am okay with some dialect words that are repeated. But would you want a whole story in deep south Texas dialect?

I am fine with some introductions into the character if he has slang or an accent or if it is played up for comedic purposes in the story. But for me it is always better if it is mentioned in a story that character xyz has an accent while the character is introduced while the written word is normal and if it is followed up sometimes later when he slips back to it, that he still has it, or that he got better etc.

I always cringe when some character from the UK or Australia is introduced and the author goes full-out into fake accent mode.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@sunkuwan

Australia is introduced and the author goes full-out into fake accent mode.


Especially since most of us don't have an actual accent at all.

ustourist

@Ernest Bywater


Especially since most of us don't have an actual accent at all.


Since I am regularly unfairly accused of being from Australia, it would appear that my mix of received English, Ohio and Texan must sound similar to strine.
That said, it is probably an improvement, because until I moved to Texas people thought I was South African. ;)
People in the UK know Australian and strine from Neighbours, Prisoner CBH, Dame Edna and the whingeing botox boy (Shane Warne), but where would Americans hear it apart from the Crocodile Dundee movies? I am not sure if there are any Aussie soaps broadcast here.

Capt. Zapp

@ustourist

...but where would Americans hear it...


BBC America

Crumbly Writer

@ustourist

… but where would Americans hear it …

We've been being inundated for the last ten to twenty years with a variety of actors and TV hosts from Australia. It almost seems like they're taking most of the premium acting jobs (mostly male) in Hollywood lately. While they all study 'American' speech patterns, we Americans get enough of the original inflections to identify some Aussie accents.

Replies:   REP
Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


Especially since most of us don't have an actual accent at all.


The writer would get more mileage out of Australian-isms than accent, which is almost impossible to do well.* A quick read through one of the late Robert G. Barrett's "Les Norton" thrillers would give you a ton of stuff to use, if such were important to the story.

Where else would you find such things as a "grouse feed" and the like?

Another source: Peter Temple's police stories. Or, heck, prowl around ASSTR and find Peter Pan's "Harper Valley" young teen sex stories.

bb

EDIT TO ADD: *Any* accent is almost impossible to do well, and likely unnecessary.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Bondi Beach

Where else would you find such things as a "grouse feed" and the like?


Certainly not in common daily usage in Australia. It's like that Hoges tourism ad about throwing another shrimp on the barbie - hell, I've never met anyone who puts shrimps on the barbie - - in fact untile about 25 or so years ago only the fairly rich people could afford them often enough to share with anyone.

Aussie slang has mostly died out, and it did it back in the 1960s and 1970s. The only person I know of who speaks with an accent like Hogan is Hogan.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
StarFleetCarl

@Ernest Bywater

Especially since most of us don't have an actual accent at all.


I work with a guy from New Zealand. Yeah, he's definitely got one. People think he's Aussie because most Americans can't tell Kiwi from Aussie.

As for no accent, what I find interesting is when I watch Hugh Jackman on screen, I don't hear an accent from him. When I've seen Hugh Jackman doing interviews, he has the accent.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@StarFleetCarl


As for no accent, what I find interesting is when I watch Hugh Jackman on screen, I don't hear an accent from him. When I've seen Hugh Jackman doing interviews, he has the accent.


Back in the 1970s I had an interesting party conversation with a university professor whose field of study was linguistics. During the conversation she told me there are a few localized accents some Aussies have, such as the one Hogan has, but the great majority of Aussies don't have an accent. She went on to tell me what many people from other countries perceive as an Australian accent is actually the absence of any accent at all standing out. I learned the lack of Aussie accent was a very hot topic when she was doing her post graduate studies. She was British and had a strong Yorkshire accent, so it was funny listening to her talk about Aussie accents.

Edit to add: She also told me it was the lack of an accent that enabled most Australians to mimic other accents with little trouble.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
REP

@Crumbly Writer

We've been being inundated


Don't forget those news blurbs from Australian politicians that we sometimes watch. :)

REP

Accents come from the way we were taught to pronounce words. We all have one, but we only hear an accent when someone from outside our group speaks.

Bondi Beach

@Ernest Bywater

Aussie slang has mostly died out, and it did it back in the 1960s and 1970s. The only person I know of who speaks with an accent like Hogan is Hogan.


I'm not touching Hogan or the movies. They're exaggerations, no one questions that. But surely you'd agree Australians, like everyone else, have their own idiosyncratic expressions?

As for shrimp on the barbie, I'll leave it to those who thought it was a great way to promote Australia during the years leading up to and at its Bicentennial (1988 for those who weren't following at the time) to explain why they used it.

I defer to a genuine Australian on Australian accents and slang, but I'd point out that they are two different things. The question isn't always slang, for that matter. It's having the character express himself using language natural to the country/culture/cult/tribe/whatever, if that's important to creating a character who's an Australian rather than an American.

To do that and get it right, the author is wise to consult the locals in person, on the internet, or through a psychic or any other suitable medium.

Barrett may have written thrillers that some considered lowbrow (a polite word for trash and not my view) but they were best-selling thrillers. His protagonist was a Queenslander, maybe that explains it. Do they talk funny in Queensland? Use odd vocabulary?

Examples from Peter Temple's The Broken Shore:

---Kid to father: "Mum says spag bol for tea, Dad, OK?"
---Cop to girl: "Gave her a message, yeah." [It's the construction, the "yeah" at the end, that makes it Australian.]

Other examples:
---"Front up" to mean "arrive"

My mind is blanking at the moment, but you get the idea.

bb

Bondi Beach

@Ernest Bywater

She was British and had a strong Yorkshire accent, so it was funny listening to her talk about Aussie accents.


Hearing Australians trying to talk like Brits (they were found often in Sydney private schools) grated on my ears.

bb

sejintenej

@Ernest Bywater

Especially since most of us don't have an actual accent at all.

I'll go along with that subject to one proviso. Australia has had a massive influx from other countries, people who are still first generation. I know many who have been in the Sydney area for 30+ years and still have South African accents.

My No. 2 for several years is from Newcastle and had absolutely no accent, the same going for a couple in Grafton NSW .

OTOH I know an Australian (born and educated around Sydney) with a hint of an Irish accent whilst his wife sounds French!

My wife (who is not Australian) is often mistaken for an Australian because of a very slight South African accent.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
sejintenej

@Bondi Beach

---Kid to father: "Mum says spag bol for tea, Dad, OK?"

---Cop to girl: "Gave her a message, yeah." [It's the construction, the "yeah" at the end, that makes it Australian.]

No way mate, that's pure Natal (or Kwa Zulu)

Replies:   Joe_Bondi_Beach
Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


Especially since most of us don't have an actual accent at all.


Do Americans have an accent? (Southern, New York, Texas don't count).

If you're going to say "No," I'll put you in touch with the 98.7 % of Australians who recognized my accent as American with the first three syllables I uttered. I was born and raised in California, so by U.S. terms I don't have an accent. (Or, some argue, it's a "Midwestern" accent.)

bb

Joe_Bondi_Beach

@sejintenej

No way mate, that's pure Natal (or Kwa Zulu)


I'll have a word with Mr. Temple so *in future* he'll get it right.

"In future" is Australian (also British, yes).
"Mate" is Australian.

Thanks for that.

bb

Replies:   ustourist  sejintenej
Crumbly Writer

@StarFleetCarl

As for no accent, what I find interesting is when I watch Hugh Jackman on screen, I don't hear an accent from him. When I've seen Hugh Jackman doing interviews, he has the accent.

That's because most Australian actors in America work with full-time (on the set) voice coaches, who don't attend publicity events.

Replies:   Bondi Beach  Not_a_ID
Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

That's because most Australian actors in America work with full-time (on the set) voice coaches, who don't attend publicity events.


And because the actor is answering as himself or herself and not as the character.

bb

ustourist

@Joe_Bondi_Beach

"In future" is definitely British.

One observation I have heard that is supposed to be solely Australian..... about foreplay.... from my unadopted Australian daughter

Bruce: Fancy a fuck?
Sheila: No
Bruce: OK. Do you mind lying down while I have one?

I am not sure if it is a compliment to them though.

Ernest Bywater

@Bondi Beach

But surely you'd agree Australians, like everyone else, have their own idiosyncratic expressions?


True, but the great majority of them have long died out. In a recently posted story the author has a character, supposedly of my generation and age, saying he gave someone a brick to mean A$20.00. Well, I've never heard anyone refer to a twenty dollar note as a brick. In my youth I did hear people of my grandfather's generation and some of the people of my father's generation refer to a 20 pound note as a brick, but that dies with the introduction of decimal currency in the 1960s. The only terms to do with money that crossed the decimal divide were zac for five cents (used to be sixpence), penny

Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

I know many who have been in the Sydney area for 30+ years and still have South African accents.


There are parts of Sydney with Italian or Greek accents from all the post WW2 migrants living in the area and heavily influencing it. We have a few other micro-areas where the Aussie born speak with Vietnamese or Thai or Chinese accents due to all the migrants in those areas who run the shops influencing those they deal with.

StarFleet Carl

@Bondi Beach

Do Americans have an accent? (Southern, New York, Texas don't count).


Yes. You can have a change of accent and dialect in the same state. I'm a perfect example - I grew up in rural Indiana, then moved to northern Indiana. When we'd go home to visit my family, my wife would have trouble understanding me because I would revert to the way I talked while growing up.

What's funny is that now I don't think she has an accent since we've been married for twenty years and I understand her perfectly. Key word in that sentence is now - she's Irish.

sejintenej

@Joe_Bondi_Beach

"In future" is Australian (also British, yes).

"Mate" is Australian.

Given the invasion of Australian (we say Aussie) barmen into Britain they have brought "mate" with them - the word I haven't heard a Brit use is "cobber"

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
sejintenej

@Bondi Beach

Do Americans have an accent? (Southern, New York, Texas don't count).


You need to exclude Indiana as well. I haven't heard StarFleet Carl but the husband of a relative of my wife was stationed at USAF Bentwaters; I won't say he was unintelligible but the rest of the USAF on that base were. So bad it was that none of them were allowed off base and we got permission to visit only because of the blood relationship

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Given the invasion of Australian (we say Aussie) barmen into Britain they have brought "mate" with them - the word I haven't heard a Brit use is "cobber"

"If you keep calling me 'mate', I'm gonna cobber you!" 'D

Replies:   Bondi Beach
StarFleet Carl

@sejintenej

You need to exclude Indiana as well.


Hey, I resemble that remark.

There are an incredible number of regional accents here. You have the Maine folks, the Boston folk (one of the regulars at our poker game is from there), the midwest, and keep in mind that the South varies - someone from Georgia (the state, not the country) may sound the same to you, but doesn't sound like an Okie to us - and then there's Texas.

Due to his travels, I would be curious as to what Aroslav has to say about this. I would suspect that the residents of Idaho or Washington (the state, not the cesspool) would have little to no accent as well.

(The reason for my state not country comment is I'm rereading the John Ringo Paladin of Shadows series.)

Replies:   docholladay
Not_a_ID

@Crumbly Writer

That's because most Australian actors in America work with full-time (on the set) voice coaches, who don't attend publicity events.


And they don't have to be perfect during filming, they can do a voice-over for that later when they take (minor) issue with the audio. It's only when they decide they need to completely redo the dialogue(as in completely different words being used) that they'd need to consider reshooting.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


"If you keep calling me 'mate', I'm gonna cobber you!" 'D


Funny but true story:

Just back from Sydney I sign up for and then not long after leave AOL's internet service. Aggressive use of first name by the staff, under instructions of course, but as the young man plodded through his closeout drill I said, "Come on, mate, let's get this done." To which he replied, "I'm not your mate." "It's just an expression," I answered.

I regret that I did not add the obvious: "We're not friends, either, so why not skip the first name buddy crap?"

Just to pre-empt the obvious: this wasn't a "get off my lawn, kid" scenario. The whole shtick at the time (not so much any more) was informality. Stupid and unprofessional, but there it is.

bb

docholladay

@StarFleet Carl

There are an incredible number of regional accents here. You have the Maine folks, the Boston folk (one of the regulars at our poker game is from there), the midwest, and keep in mind that the South varies - someone from Georgia (the state, not the country) may sound the same to you, but doesn't sound like an Okie to us - and then there's Texas.


Every area has its own accent. Usually its not even noticed inside the area or region, but it becomes apparent in other regions or areas (states or countries).
I think there are reasons its not noticed in the area or region of the accent. Namely everyone has it and automatically translates it whenever it is needed. Outsiders or other regions depending on the accent variations may take time to understand (translate) however.

Crumbly Writer

@Bondi Beach

Just to pre-empt the obvious: this wasn't a "get off my lawn, kid" scenario. The whole shtick at the time (not so much any more) was informality. Stupid and unprofessional, but there it is.

The entire 'shtick' died because the Indian call centers tried to employ it, when few could even pronounce their own assumed names. Now, anytime I hear someone mangling my name, I'll hang up before they can even begin their spiel. If they do get a word in, I'll just calmly announce: "Sorry, but no one by that name lives at this address."

It doesn't halt the calls, but if feels good to twist the knife, even if it's only in a surrogate.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
richardshagrin

How Americans talk is not just a regional accent, regions differ how fast its natives speak. New York City speakers tend to speak very quickly. Midwesterners, particularly some of my relatives from Ohio are charter members of "Slow Talk ers of A mer ic a." Southerners tend to speak slower than Easterners. Some Texans tend to speak slower than residents of the Northwest (Washington/Oregon). I sure there is more information about this on line, but I haven't looked for it.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@richardshagrin

The fun part for me is that variation. I have to think about what each one is saying rather than take it for granted. Some its easy others I have to work at it.

sejintenej

@Bondi Beach

The whole shtick at the time (not so much any more) was informality. Stupid and unprofessional, but there it is.

Just had the same thing from a Microsoft Portuguese in Lisbon and from a Filipino in Manila working for a ? Hungarian outfit.

As for leaving AOL, I'm not surprised. Their mail is so slow I'm thinking of sending them a cleft stick

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

As for leaving AOL, I'm not surprised. Their mail is so slow I'm thinking of sending them a cleft stick

With G-mail as easy to access as it is, along with your ability to access it virtually anywhere, I can't fathom why anyone would remain on SOL. That's akin to keeping your old Blockbuster card around 'just in case' you want to rent a movie some day.

Bondi Beach

@sejintenej

As for leaving AOL, I'm not surprised. Their mail is so slow I'm thinking of sending them a cleft stick


It wasn't speed. This was the mid-1990s and AOL had been overtaken by other outfits (can't remember names now; I think they're all gone) that offered real internet access instead of Disneyland.

I didn't want to miss what turned out to be the Golden Age of Porn.

bb

Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

The entire 'shtick' died because the Indian call centers tried to employ it


It took me a long time to realize that "Sam" and "Harry" and "Mark," etc., were really Rajit, Keishore, and Jayesh.

bb

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