Adding Depth with Dialect

DCP_0165Although it’s possible to write in perfectly correct APA or MLA style, it’s difficult to define “correct use of English” on a broad scale. Due to regional and cultural variations in syntax, vocabulary, and pronunciation, what counts as correct English in one group may sound atrociously incorrect to another. These different variations of the English language are known as dialects, and learning to use them correctly is an important part of perfecting your fiction.

If you’re writing characters who come from a variety of social, cultural, or geographic backgrounds, then you should pay careful attention to how dialect shapes their speech. For instance, a character from a working class background is not likely to be a stickler about “who” and “whom,” while a college professor is more likely to use elegant speech in casual conversation. Using a variety of dialects adds depth and realism to your prose and helps your reader draw distinctions between characters.

Of course, it pays to use dialect carefully. Avoid annoying your reader by writing in such a strong dialect that your prose becomes incomprehensible; usually, a few of the most notable verbal tics are enough to give readers a good sense of your characters’ dialect. In addition, keep in mind that many dialects are an important part of contemporary cultures. Being respectful and doing your research is a good way to avoid crossing the line between colorful dialect and embarrassing stereotype.

Proper use of dialect is an important part of developing a complex, varied cast of characters for your prose. Although you shouldn’t use it to the point where it’s obnoxious, using a few variations on the English language can help your reader understand your characters and get engaged with your story.