|Photo credit: Scott Smith (SRisonS) on Flickr|
Unique dialogue, when done well, is great because it makes it easy to identify a character’s voice, and it can also say a lot about their character. However, when done incorrectly, this great character marker can become difficult and painful to read.
The number one problem I’ve come across with unique dialogue is writers going overboard with dialect.
The thing is, dialect is a tricky thing to get right. If you do too little, it’s like you haven’t done anything at all, and the few sections where it’s present feels out of place. Do too much, however, and a character’s speech can go from quirky to nearly impossible to read.
The key is to find a happy medium, which of course isn’t entirely easy, especially at first. Good news is there are three questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not you’ve gone over the dialect deep end.
- Do you have to slow down to read it? This is a huge red flag to me—if I have to slow down to read and process what a character is saying (or worse, read it several times to try to figure out what’s being said), then more likely than not, the dialect’s been overdone. Remember—you never want your writing to draw attention to itself—and forcing your readers to slow down to translate your character’s speech will definitely draw attention away from the story and onto the words.
- Can you read it aloud without tripping over the words? If your answer is “no” or “yes, with practice” then you’ve failed this test. Go back and smooth out your dialogue to make it easier to read.
- Were your CPs and beta readers able to read it without getting frustrated or confused? Self-explanatory. If your CPs and betas are fine with it and didn’t have an issue, then you might be in the clear. But if you’re getting comments on confusing speech, it’s a pretty good sign you should break out the red pen.
Finally, for a good example of nice, balanced dialect, I give you Hagrid:
“I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. 'Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.” —Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)Have you ever written dialect or come across dialect that was difficult to read?
Writer @Ava_Jae on dialect: “You never want your writing to draw attention to itself.” More tips here. (Click to tweet)
Do you have accented characters in your MS? Writer @Ava_Jae shares 3 signs you may want to rework their speech. (Click to tweet)