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How far do you go to write as someone speaks?

edited June 2010 in - Writing Problems
I'm writing a story in the first person (for my course) from the point of view of a 50 year old not well educated bloke who has just come out of prison.

1) Do I limit the incorrect language use - things like me instead of my and was instead of were - to his speech or include it in the first person narration?
2) how far would you go - should I drop 'h' off words and use things like 'could o' instead of 'could've'?

Any thoughts appreciated.


  • I think it's important to make it sound natural but not realistic... if that makes sense. I've written a whole novel in first person present and I've tried to make the rhythm of the boy's speech as natural as possible but not rely on colloquialisms and slang because this can get a bit annoying to read.
  • No sure what other more experienced writers might advise, but my thoughts are:

    1) I would limit incorrect language to the dialogue only, and even then use it sparingly. I think any more than this might jar too much with the reader.

    2) I think it's fine to drop off letters, but again be careful how many words you do this to.
  • I think it's up to you how much natural speech you put in. Personally I'd be careful of overdoing it because vernacular is generally hard to read and anything that slows the reader down will ultimately turn them off. Things like "could o'" and me instead of my wouldn't cause much confusion, I'd have thought.
  • If you are going to drop h's etc then you have to drop all the h's etc (according to an article in this month's WM). As a reader, that would drive me mad.

    So I would do just enough of other things to give the feel, but don't go overboard. And whatever you do, do it consistently.

    If it's a first person narrator then his 'voice' in your piece should reflect his speech patterns in the same way as the dialogue IMO, as the narration is effectively dialogue with the reader.
  • [quote=Mutley]from the point of view of a 50 year old not well educated bloke who has just come out of prison.[/quote]

    Come on all you blokes, on TB, 50 years old and just out of prison. Help Mutley please.
  • Thank you all - it's going well. It's funny how difficult it can be to deliberately write bad grammar. (Oh I might to it accidentally, but it's doing it deliberately that's hard!)
  • Just got in and seen this. Agree with all that's been said. If you are uncertain it's working read it aloud, or record it and you will pick up any inconsistency or too correct grammar. :)
  • I seem to remember that HG Wells did this rather well in Kipps. You can download it free here if you like - might give you some ideas.
  • Best person I've ever read for speach is Elmore Leonard. It properly actualy sounds in your head like they've spoken it.
  • edited June 2010
    I wrote a completely 'experimental' story for the 'Once Bitten' comp in WN at the end of last year. I wrote it, first person, in Black Country dialect, slightly modified to make it intelligable to people outside the area but using the down-to-earth style of speech that I used to hear from the people there.

    Sample sentence to illustrate: "I guz up to find me a clean jumper, 'cos i wants to keep Freda sweet.' Er can be very gobby an' scathin when 'er's coarse, 'an when 'er calls me Flower 'er's very reminiscent of Janis, which is most concernin'"

    I could have altered the spelling to better reflect the dialect, but it would have been very difficult to follow. I think the trick is to try and capture the essence or 'feel' of the narrator. Try 'listening' to your character and just report what 'he's saying

    As I said this was an experimental story and I was more than surprised to get a short listing, so go for it Mutley
  • I think, if you're sure you can do it well, then writing dialogue as it's said is fine, but generally, I think it's best to keep it sparing because it can be hard to read.
    Personally, I tend to write my dialogue pretty much grammatically correct, and just change the tone, phrasing and particular words used depending of how the character sounds in my head and what I think would be natural for them. I have a few very serious characters who won't even use contractions in their speech, and only one who drops the 'g' off every 'ing' (he has a lazy, laid-back, southern-states American drawl).

    I'd say, have a go and see how it turns out. It might be fantastic or it might be terrible. Can't hurt to try though. :D

    Good luck!

  • Snailmail, I think you were brave to try to experiment with the Black Country dialect.

    I agree with SA, too much 'colloqial speech and slang' can detract from the piece, but clever use of tone and phrasing is preferable.
  • And if you want an example of what SA has said, read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. That's got enough in it to drive you insane, and the rest of it.
  • I enjoyed of Mice and Men, Pixie. It didn't drive me insane at all.
  • Hmmm. Maybe studying the text for 5 months drove me insane. But I just cannot stand the way Of Mice and Men was written. I've argued time and time again with my old English teacher about it.
  • Of Mice and Men is my all time favourite book!
  • Hello

    I think that you have to be very careful here or may end up sounding like a bad gansta rapper or worse still Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. And Cor Blimey luvva duck, you would want that.
  • thaddeus, all gangsta rappers are bad ... are they not?

    Good points, though, worth remembering when attempting dialect.
  • [quote=Red]I agree with SA, too much 'colloqial speech and slang' can detract from the piece, but clever use of tone and phrasing is preferable.[/quote]

    I agree too. In fact I'd go further and say that all severe dialogue, phonetically written dialogue (Gerroff an' dontcha dur c'm'ere again) and any other techniques which slow the reader down are suspect. The usual advice is to suggest these things briefly, or in one or two phrases only - if you positively have to include it at all. It's inviting reader rejection.

    Sometimes a change in speech can come out to display intensity. When the character gets flustered or is facing a crisis and their guard is down.

    One way or another, Mutley, you're going to learn something useful from this piece. You will tell us what your tutor told you and your group afterwards, won't you?
  • Are Gansta rappers bad or are they B A D? Yeeow, na' ut im sayin, dorothyd?

  • edited June 2010
  • Hi, Mutley. How are you?

    Also, try to avoid saying "Well/Yes/No" too often. We may say them, but it doesn't always look good written down.
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