Character,  Dialogue

How It’s Said: Writing Dialogue with Dialect

“Any advice on giving a character a different dialect than what you speak?”

Dialect is definitely worth a conversation. Beyond how to write it, there’s the question of should you be writing this dialogue phonetically? For a long time, I would have thought, yeah, why not? But the truth is that in well written dialogue, it does not need to be written phonetically to get a strong sense of the sound of their voice and the way the character might speak. Phonetically writing out dialogue can often bog down the reader and muddle conversations. It actually has potential to hurt a story more than help it.

It’s not often I start reading a book and don’t finish it, but I have put down books because of their use of phonetically written dialogue. Writing phonetically will mean walking a line between what you imagine the character might sound like and the words they’re saying. The only additional note I want to make on writing a dialect phonetically, is that, if it is not your own dialect, tread carefully.

Word choice alone can give a lot of insight into a character’s background. For instance, just within the United States, there’s a ton of variation in just what kinds of word you’re going to hear used. I had a lot of fun looking through these charts the other day, where they point out small differences like the whole “is it called soda or pop?” debate or “crawfish, crayfish, or crawdad.” Regional sayings and figures of speech can go a long way in suggesting a dialect.

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