This Saturday (yes, you read it correctly, a SATURDAY ) I attended an event at uni, ‘Justice and the Arts’. The key-note speaker was former MP, Chris Mullin who gave an absolutely fascinating account of his involvement in helping to quash the convictions of the Birmingham Six (it was well worth sacrificing my lie in to hear this man). In the afternoon, we split into groups and I met with other students and staff from Stirling and Strathclyde uni to discuss issues related to creative writing and publishing. There was a lively debate and the topic I was most interested in was how other writers address the concept of authenticity in their work. This got us talking about the use of local dialect…
My WIP is set in a fictional suburb of Glasgow and I have to decide how much dialect to use in my writing. This is tricky. I ask myself the question (because I’m used to talking to myself), have I included too many or too few vernacular words and phrases? Do you stay true to your ‘voice’ and pepper the prose with words like glaikit and dreich or is it, in the words of Chewin’ the Fat’s lighthouse keepers, “Gonnae no dae that, jist gonne no” and leave it free of Parliamo Glasgow?
I loved the film Trainspotting but I wonder if many people out with Scotland found reading the novel hard going? But the characters of Renton, Franco, Spud and Sick Boy couldn’t have spoken any other way.
And one of the most recent examples of an international bestseller with strong use of the distinctive deep south dialect is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I couldn’t imagine reading it without phrases like, ‘Law’ for ‘Lord’ and AIbileen’s narration, “Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime” being included in the text (although Stockett has been heavily criticised for using dialect which trivialises stereotypical characters). So what’s the best way to use dialect?
Surely you need dialect to create a sense of place? But will lots of dialect limit the audience? I suppose it’s a question of getting the balance right to make sure the writing isn’t bland and lifeless. I think the use of signpost words and phrases to help ground the work is probably the best way to set the tone without making it too difficult for readers.
Does dialect help or hinder the reader? Is it a case of less is more with colloquial speech? Let me know if you think it’s a “pure dead brilliant” idea to use local slang words and phrases in fiction or would it leave readers crabbit and scunnered with it?