Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 26, 2011 - 11:32pm

When I write stories in a specific setting I like to have diction to go with it.  Right now I'm doing research on common phrases in Ireland for my fantasy/adventure novel.  Does anyone else here do this, or does it make the story seem ridiculous, like you're beating the setting into the reader's face?

Also to be clear, I mean specific words used in certain regions.  An example would be how here in Northern California almost everyone says 'hella' as a substitute for very... but you'd never hear anyone from Southern California use it (in fact they almost consider it a sacrilege). 

Thanks for sharing!

.'s picture
. October 26, 2011 - 11:48pm

I usually do this when I'm writing from the perspective of rich college kids. Really it's just me emulating Ellis but I've picked up an ear for dialog regardless. Could we also be talking about linguistics? 

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 26, 2011 - 11:49pm

Sure, in what way do you mean?

.'s picture
. October 26, 2011 - 11:52pm

I think linguistics is what I'm thinking of. Like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man or Mark Twain's Huck Finn. Wait it's dialect I'm thinking of not linguistics. Could you be refering to dialect?

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 26, 2011 - 11:55pm

I don't necessarily mean dialect, but word choice.  In England the bathroom is called a loo.  In Ireland an idiot is called an eejit, and so on.  

.'s picture
. October 26, 2011 - 11:57pm

Oh I see. I've always wanted to write something with heavy cockney slang littering every page. Something not too far from trainspotting I guess is what I have in mind.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 27, 2011 - 12:02am

Yeah, dialect.

I try not to use it that much because it comes off corny when I read it in most fiction, even when executed well. Also I often catch dialectic colloquialisms completely misused, so that's another risk. Though I sometimes throw Southern syntax and phrases into stuff, because I speak the shits. And I'll pilfer British or Scottish or German sayings and use them to form better metaphors.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 27, 2011 - 12:09am

Sorry, when I hear the word dialect I think of writing phonetically.  Anyway, do you think that using dialect takes away from the story?  Particularly in a situation where the reader doesn't know what the word means.  In the story I'm writing now there's a little girl sucking on a dummy (which is slang for a pacifier).  If you didn't know what a dummy was would it draw you out of the story? 

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. October 27, 2011 - 1:37am

Or when they ask if you are wearing your rubbers, it means your raincoat.

Mike Mckay's picture
Mike Mckay is reading God's Ashtray October 27, 2011 - 1:43am

Take Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange for examples, both books can be difficult to read at first but if you're willing to put the initiative to actually read and enjoy you'll learn to adapt and like any true reader worth his salt he or she will read it with an open mind and at least try to go along doing their best to understand what the hell is a "prestoopnick"? I'm not sure which of the two books I mentioned has this but there's a key index in the back of the book to go through that has all the unusual terms such as the native slang/dialect used in the novel, really useful for a situation like this. Try throwing guide like that in the beginning or back in my opinion I feel its better the reader learns for themselves.

Ps. I'm so tired I have no idea what im doing.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 27, 2011 - 2:21am

I was considering doing a glossary, or maybe footnotes, but I was worried it might come across as tacky.  The only time I've seen a glossary in fiction is in 'learn to read' books for children.  Hearing that others have used them, however, is encouraging. 

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 27, 2011 - 5:45am

I've seen glossaries in works of fiction before. The Gunny Sack uses a mishmash of English, West African and Indian terms - to the point where some become familiar and some don't. The glossary helps, but I find constantly flipping to it about as disruptive as footnotes (David Foster Wallace, I'm looking at you).

As for the diction/colourful language, if you're not intimately familiar with it, there is the risk of it being misused, or used out of sorts.

If you're writing fantasy, have you considered inventing your own language/diction/words?

Waterhouse's picture
Waterhouse from Columbus is reading Bullet Park, John Cheever October 27, 2011 - 6:26am

I tend to avoid dialect; it must be handled with the greatest care-- there is the danger of throwing words in to give the voice a patina of authority, but it is often not used with consistency. One problem I have seen is everyday words (within the dialect) are not moved from standard to their dialectic equivalent, while the globally known or "famous" words are. Also, unless handled with precision it pulls me out of the fiction.

Burgess gave a whole new vocabulary, but that is the point, after all, the sharp divide between generations and their inability to communicate, Kopat, my droogie?

I handle it through the structure of the dialogue; in a longer piece I am working on that takes place in the North, the viewpoint character's husband is from a well off Virginian family, with roots that go far back. He never uses contractions, but when in a higher emotional state will use some "low" (to him) terms, like "you all" (he would never say "y'all") Also, he tends to have just a few more beats than other characters between parts of his dialogue to emulate the slower, more relaxed pace at which he speaks.

Other characters, especially antagonist characters, can remark on an accent in order to insult or deride a character- in that case I would go full bore with the antagonist's dialogue reflecting stereotypes regarding the dialect which that person believes.

So, that is just how I handle these things, though everyone solves the problem their own way. As long as it works for you, and does not confuse the reader or pull them out of the piece, it is all good.

simon morris's picture
simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 27, 2011 - 7:05am

The key: Allow the characters to speak in the language of the region but the narrator should maintain straight English unless it is a first person narrator.

So to use an extreme:

A group of young men lounging on the corner (describe the corner)

"Wazz up?"

"Bein' cool, Jackson."


ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig November 1, 2011 - 9:50pm

I agree, narration should remain straight, using your example I could see


"She's over there crying for her dummy," said the mother, refering to the infant's pacifier.


I mean, that's not genius writing or anything, just an example.