Dealing with Dialect

As I continue research for a book, I’ve come across something that may require me to deal with something new for a book: dialect. I’ve had Sam the gargoyle’s hint of a Brooklyn accent and the occasional “y’all” for some of my southern characters, but I may have to take it further than that with this story.

In the time period I’m emulating — and in the world I’m building — it’s before there was easy long-distance travel, so most people never went more than a hundred miles from home in their lifetime. That meant that regional dialects were quite pronounced and distinct. The exception might be people whose work required a lot of travel (merchants, sailors, military, etc.) and the upper crust. The elite sent their sons to boarding schools, where they met people from other regions and they visited London and went to each other’s homes for house parties. They ended up having their own dialect that was distinct from the regional dialects where they lived. Otherwise, different parts of the country had different ways of talking that could sometimes almost be other languages. These regional differences have blurred over time as people have become more mobile and as there’s mass media, where there’s a “standard” way to speak.

In the story I’m developing, the heroine comes from a remote region that’s not visited by many outsiders. In a sense, they’re the “hillbillies” of this world, though more sophisticated and educated than that. At the beginning of the story, the heroine has barely interacted with anyone outside her family, let alone from outside her region. It would make sense that she would speak a different dialect than the upper-crust people from the empire’s capital city.

That means I need to figure out what her dialect is and how to depict it. Dialect in text can be really annoying and distracting to read, and it would be even worse if it’s a made-up dialect that doesn’t map directly to anything readers will be familiar with. I, personally, hate it when a book is so heavy on dialect that I have to read it out loud to try to sound out the words and figure out what they’re saying. I think the heroine will adapt pretty quickly once she realizes that the people around her talk a different way, so it will mostly be a factor early in the book to show that she’s different from the other characters and then later maybe when she gets excited and forgets herself. I just need to figure out a few speech patterns and wording changes that will indicate her home “tongue.” I think I’m going to try to avoid anything that will require funny phonetic spellings.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing more and more of the “movie” in my head (and in my sleep). Unfortunately, so far it’s all set-up stuff, so I’m not getting a lot of hint at what the plot will be, just how the characters get into the position for the plot to kick in and affect them.

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