Writing Dialogue isn’t Easy

Writing Dialogue isn’t Easy. Please check out the referenced posting from Francis Guenette on her blog: “disappearing in plain sight – writing about writing”. I’ve also added the following comment with reference to the difficulty of writing dialogue.

Thanks for this post. It’s very true that writing dialogue isn’t easy. The particular “problem” I’ve encountered in writing dialogue in both my novel: “Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie” and my autobiography: “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” was writing in the Scottish vernacular, as both books were set in Scotland (the latter partially so).

My editor, who is not Scottish-born, had quite a workout learning the spelling and nuances of my attempt to record written Scots-English. In fact, one computer program sent us the message that there were so many errors in spelling that we could not use the spell-check!!! In the novel, which uses the vehicle of time travel, I also had to try to convey that the Scottish persons my 21st Century heroes encountered when they found themselves somehow transported back to the 12th Century spoke in the Gaelic but the heroes, who didn’t speak or understand Gaelic, heard it as Scots-English and vice-versa. I chose to show the Gaelic, not by using that language, but by eliminating all contractions from their speech and using old-fashioned words or sentence structure whenever possible.

One reviewer remarked that he found the dialogue stilted and old-fashioned at times, not recognizing why I chose to use the differing speech patterns. On the other hand, another reviewer remarked that the dialogue read realistically for the most part and added, “Character personalities come through well in their speech, and you’ve managed to suggest the Scottish ‘lilt’ without overdoing it. I don’t know how you do it, but there’s a cadence to some of the speech that just seems to work. Very nice.” I can only conclude that some reviewers “get it” and others don’t. That probably goes for general readers as well. I now realize I should have addressed the difference in speech patterns in a preface to the book.

Having learned my lesson, I noted in the preface to my autobiography: “The reader will notice that I’ve used the Scottish vernacular when Scots are speaking amongst themselves and normal English when they are speaking with non-Scots. That reflects my own speaking pattern. When among Scots, my speech becomes increasingly ‘Scottish-sounding.’ For example, ‘Ah’ (I); ‘tae’ (to); ‘ye’ (you); ‘no’ (not); ‘canna’ (cannot);’ ‘oor’ (our); ‘widna’ (would not); ‘aboot’ (about); ‘aye’ (yes), etc. I’ve also used British words for the period before I emigrated from Scotland (such as ‘lorry,’ ‘chap,’ ‘bloke,’ and ‘cheerio’); and changed them to North American words sometime after I immigrated to Canada (such as ‘truck,’ and ‘guy’). My editor and I had a disagreement about allowing ‘Scottishisms’ (as she calls them) into my narrative. I insisted on leaving them in, however, for that’s how we (Scots) speak. Thus you’ll find the occasional sentence such as ‘So, there’s me, the great boatbuilder.’ instead of her ‘cleaned up’ version, ‘So, there I was, the great boatbulder.”

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