Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Local Dialect

As writers, we all like to give a flavour of the area where we have set our stories. Accents and local terminology are there to be played with and if you tell the reader that a character is from a certain region then they will automatically attribute the accent to their dialogue.

The issue is explaining local terminology to the reader, as the characters who inhabit the story know what the local lingo means.

The best example I can think of for dealing with this problem is the Lennox series of novels by Craig Russell. His main protagonist is a Canadian living in Glasgow. Through his first person viewpoint Russell will use a passage like “I followed him into the alley, or close as they call it here” near the start of the novel and then later on when Lennox “ducks into a close” the reader already has the information needed to translate. Matt Hilton did something very similar when he had one of his characters travel to Manchester from America for a chapter or two.

 I’ve set my novel in Cumbria which has a very distinctive dialect all of its own. Some phrases which are used everyday include (apologies to all Cumbrians for any spelling errors)

“a’s gan yam” – I’m going home

“seck like” – such like

“charver” – man / lad / boy

“bewer” – woman / lady / girl

“nashed after I went chawing” – Ran away after I was stealing

There are only so many times that you can have one character explain to another the local lingo, so a lot of the time I have had to refine the language used. Also with Cumbrian being a largely unknown dialect I also have to remember that idiomatic phrases like “why-eye” or “or-hey are kid” are not even slightly relevant.

I still want to include the local language into my novel though so I made an important character a stranger to the region to allow me some wiggle room. After giving you five examples of local language I can now let you read this line of dialogue which is written in full local patois.

“This charver and bewer nashed past me as a was gan yam. I bet they’ve been chawing or seck like.”

Naturally that line is way way to regional to actually use in a novel but if I can find a way of giving a wee info dump on the local dialect (without it being obvious) then I can scatter odd words or terms into the characters dialogue to keep things authentic.

Feel free to comment on how you do or don't deal with this.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Vocabulary Vs Understanding

Us writers love language and it is our natural playground. There are few more satisfying things than a well crafted sentence which creates a setting or evokes an emotion in the reader.

However, there are times when we scribblers can go to far with stunning verbiage. I feel I have at worst an average vocabulary, yet there are times when I’ve been in conversation with colleagues or friends and have used a word or two which has made their eyes visibly glaze over.

As a reader myself there are few things than can pull me out of a story quicker than a word I don’t understand or even guess the context of. If the word is the name for something ancient and unknown to me, then I expect the writer to inform me of the object and its purpose, look or attraction. Being fair most do at some point in the novel. However the introduction of words which are not used in everyday language outside of a laboratory or space station have been known to cause a curse to erupt from my lips.

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with words and finding double meanings for words so that I can twist them to my own purpose. It’s the usage of innocuous, inconsequential and hitherto un-encountered syntax which elicits the explosions of diatribe aimed at thesaurus swallowing linguists.

Don’t even get me started on those writers who litter their work with foreign languages with no explanation. I know that the British are not renowned for mutli-lingualism but there’s no need to ram the point home every other page. If you’re going to insert another language into a book written in English either explain it or kick its bahookey (A Scottish term for bottom) [see what I did there] right off the page. Local dialect and terminology is acceptable provided that an explanation is forthcoming.

As a writer I try to limit my use of long or obscure words. Yes I have picked up a dictionary or thesaurus to find a better word than the one I’ve written, but I will not use the replacement if I am in any way unsure of its connotation or possible interpretation. I try to keep my language relevant and use everyday language which is comprehensible to the majority of readers.

To summarise this post I would have to say “don’t use words which nobody else will understand” and yes I am aware that I have taken over four hundred words when the eight in quotation marks would have sufficed.

Feel free to tell me I’m right, wrong or even full of merde via the comments below. First person to point out the irony of the language I’ve used in the post will win a signed air guitar.