more dialect in dialog

It’s a delicate business, but it can be done well. Examples from published fiction that you might find of interest below.
I’ve also included a few examples from my own work — including a passage where I commit the very sin I’ve been talking about here.

A lot of the second novel in the Wilderness series takes place in lowland Scotland in 1802. The language spoken by the characters would have been Scots — not English. I’ll spare you the discourse on the difference at the moment, but while I was writing the novel I struggled with representing Scots in writing, and I did end up using spelling, to some degree. Here’s an example:

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editors, copyeditors, division of labor

There’s a battle that people don’t talk about much, one that goes on (has always, will always) between authors and editors, most particularly copy editors.

I have been very fortunate in the editors who I’ve worked with on my novels. For the most part, I’ve been able to get along the with copy editors, too. But especially with copy editors, there’s always a bit of tension. I imagine it’s the same kind of push-pull that exists between architects and engineers.

The thing any author wants and hopes for from an editor are pretty simple, the first and most important being: please catch me when I fall. That means, if a paragraph is impossible to follow, I need to know. If I used the wrong character name, please, shout. If I’ve got the wrong word (sure, this happens once in a while) then by all means, don’t keep it to yourself. Most of all I want a copy editor to catch me when I repeat myself. I hate doing that, and while I re-read a hundred times, I will always miss a few instances where I let the same word creep into a sentence or paragraph after it’s come to the end of its usefulness.

From a really good editor, one whose instincts I trust, I hope for more. I hope that editor will raise deeper and more complicated issues, for example: do you feel this is enough of a transition for readers who are new to the series? Or: this feels a beat too long to me, or: Have you read this dialog out loud? [one way of saying, this sounds awkward]. And a big one: Do you realize that you’ve used this imagery [facial expression, turn of phrase] before on pages xx, xx, xx and xx ?

These are things that make the editorial process important to me personally. Less important to me (and I think, to most authors) are issues of spelling and punctuation. I’m pretty good at that stuff, probably because I have done my share of editing, but I’m not perfect. And there’s a reason: it bores me, and worse, it distracts me from the important stuff.

I am writing this partially in response to Pat Holt’s essay Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do) , in which she (as editor) shakes her finger at authors for comma sins:

Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.


Well, sorry, but I can do that, if I find it necessary in a particular passage. I will admit that it’s usually not necessary , but I reserve the right to omit commas the same way I reserve the right to compose (on occasion) really, really long sentences. She goes on:

Entire books have been written about punctuation. Get one. “The Chicago Manual of Style” shows why punctuation is necessary in specific instances. If you don’t know what the rules are for, your writing will show it.

Now see, this is where we get into trouble. Pat Holt is a great editor, by all accounts, but she and I would not get on. Does this tone put me in a snit? Damn tootin’.

I would guess that about 90 percent of the editorial marks in the manuscript I’ve got in front of me have to do with commas. The copy editor wants serial commas. I don’t use them. Do I care? Not really. If s/he wants to go through 1,170 manuscript pages aligning commas, I’m fine with that as long as the outcome is consistent and it doesn’t interfere with some greater purpose of mine. Should I have done this while I was writing? The answer is simple: hell no. I’m juggling a hundred characters, a half dozen plot lines, three different battles, two love stories, and a million words of backstory. When I’m re-writing I’m looking hard at characters, the way they talk to each other, what they do. The commas are of secondary (or even tertiary) importance, as are other matters of punctuation-rules-of-the-moment (because much of punctuation is, in case you never noticed, a matter of style, and changes over time).

The bottom line is this: my job is making sure the story works, the characters move, the conflicts engage. Sometimes, rarely, I use punctuation as a tool to achieve a desired effect. In those cases, I simply tell the copy editor (by means of that wonderful abbreviation sic) to Leave It As I Wrote It. Thus far, nobody has gone to war with me about such an incident. I hope that never happens.

former lives, puppy boys, and Lily

in another life, I was a university professor. I wrote books about language and discrimination issues, and my work was well received. For the most part that is all behind me now, but every once in a while my past catches up with me. I spent Thursday and Friday writing an expert opinion for a Title VII language-focused discrimination case, which felt very odd but interesting. I did it because I felt like I couldn’t not do it.

puppies

Just before I started this project on Thursday, I sent off two things I had promised my agent: the first three chapters of the contemporary novel (tentatively entitled Tied to the Tracks) and a children’s book I have been writing, off and on, for the last year. A short thing, really, but it was fun to do. Don’t know if it will ever sell, of course. It’s called Puppy Boys.

So now I have to get back to work. While I was hammering away at linguistics, the odd thought did pop into my head. Or maybe I should say the odd character: Lily showed up to tell me something obvious I had been overlooking. It was actually a great surprise and relief and quite amusing, too.

Lily is a young woman at this pointl. She is a great deal like her mother, but she doesn’t know that yet. In matters of the heart, her life is looking very different so far than her mother’s ever did.