Every once in a while, I will find myself writing a new character that I know I want to belong very much to a particular time and place. Right clothes. Right interests. Right beliefs. The list can go on and on. There’s a lot to take into account and I want to get things right.


One of the items on this list is the way they speak. This might mean thinking about the type of language they use. If they’re well-educated they may have a wider vocabulary and use more complex sentence structures. They may have spent many years working in a particular industry and be prone to using a lot of jargon related to that.

But one thing I often linger over is to what extent I want them to speak in their natural dialect, where this applies. Mostly this is best avoided. It can make it harder for readers to understand what’s being said and even persuade them to give up on the book altogether. Worse still, they might slap up a bad review.

There are, though, times where I want to add some more colour to a character and so I avoid this advice. I aim to get round the drawbacks by watering down the dialect, either by using only a very few such words or by using only those that are pretty easy to understand. I think I must have made a decent job of this so far because complaints have been few and far between.

However, I was perusing old books on ebay recently and came across a book of stories and plays from the eighteenth-century. It can take a bit more effort than usual reading books from these times, but the kicker here was that the stories in this book had been written in a strong Lancashire dialect. (Lancashire is an area in North-West England).

What a hoot! I could barely understand the half of it and even then what I could work out took much effort. Hilarious. Still, at least it made me feel more confident about the limited use I make of this sort of thing. By comparison, my use of dialect presents the reader with no problem at all.









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