On this adventure of writing a novel, I’ve learned the importance of dialogue. Dialogue is a tool which moves the story forward, provides information to the reader, and entertains. However; sometimes what a character says is not as important as how they say it.
Dialect, the manner in which a person speaks a turn of phrase, can set the scene of a story. It can explain, among other things, the nationality, social status, or age of a character. Dialogue becomes more realistic with phrases and references from a specific region.
Dialect is not to be confused with accents. Accents are the way in which a person speaks, not the words and phrases that a person uses. The way a person in New York speaks in much different than someone from Australia.
In Atlantic Canada, we speak of individuals “from away,” meaning the person in question is not local. If someone is from “The Rock” we mean Newfoundland not Alcatraz Island. A “Bluenoser” is a native Nova Scotian.
A Newfoundlander might ask, “How she going?” instead of “How are you today?” The phrase “my love” is used like some people use the word “dear”.
My characters use subtle phrases that speak to the country and region they hail from. But they don’t swim in the dialect because in real life, not everyone does.
And, they won’t be saying one of the most notorious Canadian language stereotypes- Eh?
I’ve only heard this one spoken by someone unconsciously in discussion twice in my life. “Eh” is tacked on to the end of a question. It’s not a question on its own, a statement, or a random word Canadians tack on to the end of a sentence.
An atypical use of the phrase would be: I went to the gym today, eh.
While a typical use of the phrase would be: “Looks like rain today, eh?”
Making the decision on the level of dialect to use with your characters is an important one. Dialect colours the character, adds increasing depth to their persona and consequently to the entire story.
But it can also be distracting. Some dialects are very thick and would be difficult to translate onto a page. Finding balance between a character’s speech and the reader’s ability to follow is important.
When considering how your character is going to speak, I suggest three things:
- Know your audience
- Know your character
- Know your location
- Know your time period
Okay, you’re right. Time period doesn’t have much to do with dialect, other than the fact that dialect changes over time.
But it’s a great segue to tell you about a wonderful Regency novella a talented member of the Happy Author’s Guild published.
Appetizer: Pure Seduction by Roxanna Haley, set in London during the Regency Era, is the story of Ellen and David and contains excellent examples of period dialogue. It’s a fun, sexy story which can be read in one sitting and it is well worth the investment. You can find it on Amazon here: