Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You talkin' to me?

Detectives Beyond Borders' Peter Rozovsky raises another interesting topic, the role of dialogue on the page:

What role does speech play in creating setting? How far is too far when it comes to trying to capture the flavor of "ethnic" speech? How do authors strike a balance between maintaining an illusion of everyday speech on the one hand and creating memorable dialogue on the other? What happens when authors give up the effort at maintaining a balance? Who are your favorite writers of dialogue, and why?

I commented:

For me, authentic speech is one more thing that pulls me in and keeps me reading a story. I can't say the actual dialogue is essential as I think one can approach the same level of authenticity with sentences like, "Animatedly, in Italian, he gave me directions to the church." However, when a writer known for a good ear doesn't try as hard to deliver the nuances of speech, I can tell.

I think dialogue is one of the best ways to move a story and one of the most natural ways to reveal character. I think it's going too far when the dialogue as written looks too different from readers' concept of normal. A writer's goal is often to make readers comfortable with local speech. The more that speech resembles what the reader is familiar with (i.e. standard English), the easier the job is. I need just a few sprinkles to get the feel of a different speech pattern. For example:

The first thing he said to me was, "What you want?" It sounded more like, "Chew on."

After this bit of explanation, I have enough of an idea how the character sounds to take me through the rest of the story.


Graham Powell said...

When I write dialog I try never to use phonetic spellings - "Ah's goin getchu, maaan" - and instead supply character through word choice and rhythm.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Several times over the course of this discussion, I've praised the virtues of using phonetic spelling sparingly, if at all. I shall try to keep this question in mind in the course of my reading, then come back here (and on my own blog) to highlight effective uses of the device.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"