How long did it take you to translate to Dialog on Dialogue on Dialect? Maybe mere seconds. Congratulations. Now try reading that on 350=400 pages! That quirky, tongue-twisting title is illustrative of the discombobulation created when today’s amateur writers attempt to convey dialect in dialogue.
In the 19th century, dialogue with misspellings, dropped letters, and apostrophes attempted to reflect the class, race, social group or area from which a character originated. Mark Twain immediately comes to (I dare say) everyone’s minds with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, as does Harriet Beecher Stowe for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Gradually, such laborious effort to convey speech patterns fell out of fashion. Was it simply a sense of political correctness that grew on people, or was there more behind the demise of the convention?
Consider other changes in society since those times: from the electric light bulb, movies, sound recordings, the airplane, telephone, and automobiles – to television, space travel, high speed railways, CDs, DVRs, Netflix and others streaming more video entertainment into your home than you have life left to view it. Should I mention I-phones? They’re probably being upgraded or rendered obsolete as I write.
Write? Right! And you’re writing for modern readers of e-books who tote Nooks and Kindles – Oops! – This just in: you can now get books on your tablet and I-phone. Today’s readers who ‘tweet’ in 140 characters or fewer have little patience or interest in decoding dialectal writing.
Apostrophes and phonetic spelling distract the reader from the continuity of the character’s thoughts. In other words, if the reader must parse your words and phrases lie Bob Cratchit scratching letters at his cold clerk’s desk, your book will be chucked in the fireplace to warm the reader as he selects an easier, faster, more fulfilling read.
As with any ‘new rule,’ there are always ‘old exceptions.’
More on that next time!