Sun 20 Jan 2013
My new book – as yet untitled – is a Highland Romance. It will be the first of a trio – my “lovely lairds” series. I enjoyed writing about the Highlands in “A Faerie Fated Forever” and I’m enjoying spending keyboard time there again. But there is a challenge. It’s one that I – a born and bred Southerner – know all too well.
Regions where there is a well-known accent present a real challenge for everyone involved in the creative process – writers, actors, directors – everyone. It particularly presents a challenge for readers and that increases the challenge for writers. As readers, we all have our ideas about the vernacular of our home area or of a beloved romance novel region. When the writer presents phrases differently, it challenges preconceptions in a way that births the reader reaction that writers hate — “You got it wrong. You made a mistake.”
It isn’t possible to get it wrong. It isn’t possible to make a mistake with dialect. Well, it is and it isn’t.
You can’t get dialect wrong because it’s not like spelling. There’s not a “right” way to express how a region expresses itself. However, there is a “wrong” way for a writer to do it. The “wrong” way is the way that tears the reader out of the book. And the bad part of writing dialect? There is no way that any writer, now matter how great or gifted, will ever write dialect to suit every reader. It’s like my day job – I practice law in an office where it seems that no matter what we do, we didn’t do it exactly the way the boss wanted. It’s very liberating once you accept that you won’t get it right. It means you do what you think best and let the chips fall as they will anyway.
Writing dialect is exactly that way. I throw in some Highland Scottish dialect at points where I think it suits the story and I write it as it suits my ear and my sensibility. It may not suit yours. Like I said above, I’m Southern and Lord Knows, when I read books set in the South or watch a TV show or movie with Southern characters – they never get it right!! Of course, they never get it wrong either.
Dialect helps set the mood and makes the actions of some of the characters make sense. A laird might not act or react in a way that other people from other areas would act or react. That’s part of what makes the story, after all. As readers we all enjoy visiting places defined by other senses and sensibilities. I live with that because Southerners won’t act or react the way people from any other part of the USA will act or react to many, many things. We enjoy our differences and we celebrate them. We don’t mind seeing them explored; we just don’t want to see them exploited.
To me, that’s the delicate balance of dialect. I want it in my story. I want the characters to occasionally say ye, aye, lass, lad, and sassenach. It kindles the mood, keeps the magic alive, and reminds the reader that the story is set in a different place. But I don’t want to use dialect in a way that offends Highlanders who read the story. (I’ve had reviews on the UK Amazon site from Scots for A Faerie Fated Forever complimenting this.) I also don’t want to use so much dialect that reading the story becomes a chore, rather than a pleasure.
So, I’m presently writing the first of my “lovely lairds” trilogy and trying to toss in enough dialect to season it properly, but not so much it overwhelms. Like seasoning, dialect will make or break a story and I’m trying to get it right, even though I can’t get it wrong. Do ye ken?