Editing For Dialect

My biggest concern when editing a story that uses a specific dialect, is that not everyone may understand that is what is going on, and think I am a terrible, hack-job editor.

I am currently editing a story that uses dialect different than you find in the majority of English written books. The dialect being used is not a heavy accent that portrays someone who lives in the Deep South, or New England, or the likes. It is not a play on the words so much, as it is that there are words missing.

Words are missing because the characters in the story use English as a second language. I am sure we have all had the pleasure of meeting an interesting person who did not use English as their main way of communicating. So you have a conversation that seems almost abbreviated, with the ‘extra’ words that are used in the English language not being used when someone is using English as their second language.

Have you heard that the English language is the hardest language to learn? It is true. More than any other language, the English language has so many “rules and regulations” concerning the use of it, that it can be difficult for pretty much anyone to use it correctly, even if it is the only language they know.

So for an example, what you might read is the following; “She found him at bus station.” If I were writing the story, I would say “She found him at the bus station.” I see nothing wrong with writing a story this way, when it is necessary to set the scene and make it authentic.

I am currently editing a story by a very talented author, and it took about 3 sentences into the second chapter where the characters were having a conversation for me to realize that what I thought were errors, were intentional. The main characters use English as their second language. I think if the author did not write it using this dialect, it would take away from the story.

Which brings me back to my main concern; will everyone who reads this story understand that it is supposed to be written in that style? I think I am pretty safe, as it is a very in-depth story and one that will interest a specific genre.

If you are a writer, do you use dialect in specific novels you write to lend authenticity to your story?

8 thoughts on “Editing For Dialect

  1. jan January 18, 2015 / 4:27 pm

    I do use dialect but only sparingly and only in dialogue. I always worry that it will appear as a misspelling or typo….

    • Angela January 18, 2015 / 5:03 pm

      I think as long as it is consistent throughout the story the reader will understand it was intentional. Usually bad writing skills are obvious right from the get-go when reading a story, and appear completely different then someone writing with a specific dialect or intonation.

  2. lovessiamese January 18, 2015 / 4:41 pm

    I also use dialect. For example, in “Vengeance,” one of the characters early in the story was of Irish descent. In my dialogue, I had his speaking tagged as “in his broad Irish brogue.”

    • Angela January 18, 2015 / 5:05 pm

      That is a great way to set up the reader for what to expect! I just started reading another Patrick Taylor novel, which is set in Ireland and uses a heavy Irish brogue.

  3. Caryl McAdoo January 18, 2015 / 4:51 pm

    I enjoy writing and reading dialect. Yes, it can at times be overdone – a writer has to learn to use moderation – or it just gets too hard for the reader and they’ll end up skipping important stuff! 🙂 In HEARTS STOLEN, I had an uneducated fifteen-year-old, an old black mid-wife, and a four-year-old raised with the Indians who’se English improved over the course of the book. But when you have many characters, a dialect can help in identifying who said something and keep using a gazillion attributions (he said, she said) from being necessary as evidenced in my LADY LUCK’S A LOSER. 🙂 Very interesting post from the editor’s perspective 🙂

    • Angela January 18, 2015 / 5:06 pm

      Great points Caryl! Having different dialect for different characters does make a story easier to follow and understand. In your stories I have read so far, the dialect always fit the setting and characters!

  4. Bridget January 20, 2015 / 5:08 pm

    I think it’s pretty clear when dialect is being used; I’ve never had an issue with reading dialect, and usually enjoy it for the extra dimension it adds to a story. If someone’s not getting that an author is using dialect and not just making mistakes, they’re probably not reading very carefully.

    • Angela January 20, 2015 / 8:01 pm

      I agree Bridget. I actually spent about 2 months reading all of Andrew Greeley’s “Irish” series, and I literally started talking with that dialect because I was so immersed in it. I think it is an important part of a story, and a necessary one as well. Thanks for sharing!

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