Monday, February 09, 2009
WRITING DIALOGUE: FORMAL VS SLANG
Our writing group had a discussion the other day regarding dialogue. In writing a children's story, one woman was told that her dialogue was too formal, that children would not talk like that. We gave some ideas on what a child would say. She brought up the fact that if we do not use proper language when writing, how will a child learn? That's a good question.
It was also mentioned how people have different accents and will use odd idioms from other parts of the country. That reminded me of the time one of the members used the term, "Jeezum crow" in one of her stories and someone else had never heard of it. We had used that line a lot as kids and I hadn't heard it in years. It brought back memories and the feeling of having lived a very narrow life.
Personally, I like some slang when I'm reading because it helps me to get into the characters. You can feel the culture coming through when the writing is able to reflect how that person would be speaking and acting. I find it very interesting to notice the differences. That, in itself, can be a learning experience as we can see how people from other countries will interpret our language and even other English speaking places might make a different pronunciation.
As for teaching children, as long as they are having grammar lessons, they will be learning proper English... 'course they'll might not ever use it, ha ha. A good teacher may even point out the differences by demonstrating lines from a book and comparing them to proper sentence structure.
Story writing is different from formal writing. You probably wouldn't use slang phrases when writing a thesis, for instance. Dialogue, however, might be written along the lines of "I'm gonna go ta the store and git some bread" instead of "I am going to the store to get some bread." The letter g is often dropped off words when speaking... doin', bein', sleepin', walkin'... you get the picture. Of course, it depends on the character, where he is from, etc.
Myself, I go back and forth. The newsletter articles and some of my other writings tend to be more formal whereas my poetry and journaling may sometimes slip into more of how I would actually be speaking. One story I am working on has characters that do speak in more correct terms. There is something, too, about how I hear the words in my head before I write them on the page.
I have to admit, I've been slow in coming into using slang. I used to pride myself on proper grammar, but I have to say, that as time goes on, I tend to forget. My speaking picked up slang and the running of words together. I think it comes from the tendency to try to do everything in a hurry.
That is definitely the trend now-a-days. Hurry, hurry, do it fast, abbreviate and shorten tends to be the norm. Sometimes I fight that. I make myself slow down and I try to write out entire words without chopping them. (Except when I'm writing poetry, of course.) There's that part of me that refuses to buy into this need to quicken life. At meetings, I still take notes long hand and will not use a recorder.
So, when it comes to dialogue, the writer must decide how the characters behave and what the culture is when determining speech patterns. The character needs to be true or the story will not be believable. As I read more biographies and listen to interviews, I notice how much research will go into a project as authors will study places and people in which they plan to create their characters. It is important to them that their creations fit the scenes and that will make the story believable by the readers.