Thursday, November 10, 2011

You already know - Dialect - A la Mary Kole

The story I was working on before I started trying to polish up my critique entry for the Mary Kole event is called LIE DOWN OR PASS. It's been on hold since then, but I fully intend to get back to it after nano. Torment me if I don't.

I don't know if it's "purpose-work" as we say at home, but I try something new every WIP. LDOP is my 6th novel attempt. (I'm ignoring all the ones which didn't make it past 5,000 words.) I've heard a million people say in a million ways, that you should let go in your first draft. I've always tried to keep editing to a minimum, but I've reined in my Barbadian-ness. This time around I decided to write the story exactly as if I was telling it to a fellow Bajan. I would think about understandability for foreign audiences later.

Then the Mary Kole opp came up. I could have a one-on-one critique, a first page critique and a query critique. I decided to go for all 3, but I thought it would be a waste if I sent the first 150 words of my 2500 one-on-one as my first page. So I decided to send the most recent thing I'd worked on.

I do not know what I was smoking.

As I said, I know I need to tone down the dialect to work for international audiences. And I fully plan to, before I ever offer that book up to the Query Powers That Be. If I had not been convinced of the need to think about the dialect included and the way it's introduced, Mary Kole's cold read convinced me.

The book starts with a group of teens playing dominoes. In Barbados, dominoes has it's own vocabulary that can be almost indecipherable, even to other Bajans if they don't play dominoes. I watched Mary stumble over every other word. Even where the words were recognisable, they sometimes took on a different meaning. She couldn't comment other than to laugh. I couldn't do much other than laugh with her and at myself.

Most people don't dive in to a hot spring. They stick in a toe. Then the sit on the edge. Then they sit on the ledge so they water comes up to their chests. Then they ease right down to their shoulders. That's how dialect should be, especially if it's a dialect that's completely unfamiliar. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to baby your reader. Let the words explain themselves if they can. And don't add your detail too slowly. A few drops sprinkled in at the beginning, with progressively more, until by the end, the book has gone local. But not in the scary incomprehensible sort of way - it's still acting like there's company around.

The same is true of any world details that are unfamiliar. Yesterday we touched on multicultural settings, but the concern also arises in speculative fiction where you have to introduce your reader to the world.The trick, I think is to always keep the reader in their depth, but never make them feel like they're in the kiddie pool.

Do you write in dialect or use niche slang? How do you encorporate it?

1 comment:

Marsha Sigman said...

I have to be careful not to use too much southern slang. Otherwise everyone in my novels sound like total