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 Post subject: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 1:55 pm 
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Dear author,

Please do not write in dialect. That is, do not render certain character's speech quasi-phonetically.

Most likely, you will not do it consistently. (And if you do, it will be frustrating for your readers to wade through all the quirks and apostrophes.) Most likely, you will exaggerate the accuracy of your phonetic spellings. (Everyone pronounces some as "sum," so calling attention to this only when certain people speak is silly.) Most likely, you are doing it out of some unexamined racism or other bigotry, attempting to "other" a character or construe their speech as a symptom of their inferiority.

Instead of writing in dialect, use grammatical constructions or vocabulary suggestive of regional or other linguistic differences. But only if you have intimate knowledge of them. Do not guess or assume how gangsters in 1930s Chicago or domestic servants in the South during Reconstruction or anyone else spoke.

It makes for clumsy writing and it makes you look like an amateur. (And it makes extra work for me.)

Thank you,
Your editor

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 2:23 pm 
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FootFace wrote:
Most likely, you are doing it out of some unexamined racism or other bigotry, attempting to "other" a character or construe their speech as a symptom of their inferiority.


Absolutely. I want to repeat this a thousand times in a thousand different dialects because it's so important (possibly controversial opinion: Faulkner was a good example of this. Also, Mark Twain.).

Exceptions: Zora Neal Hurston, Toni Morrison. Maybe Anthony Burgess.

Now I want to talk about literature.


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 3:16 pm 
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FootFace wrote:
Please do not write in dialect.

Yes. It's so rarely done well that most shouldn't bother.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 3:34 pm 
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A couple examples from the book I'm currently editing:

"b'fore" for before and "what’ch’y’" for what did you. These could phonetically represent my typical speech patterns, but in the manuscript they're used exclusively for the big, dumb, backward main character. (Do you know anyone who pronounces before as "bee-fore"? I don't. So what's the purpose of rendering it phonetically only when one character uses it?)

This is on top of "-in'" (for -ing) and all manner of other peculiarities. It's done excessively, every time the main character speaks or has internal monologue.

It's really distracting and I find it distasteful and unaesthetic.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 3:42 pm 
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It's also kind of painful to think that the author probably worked really hard to get the dialect right thinking that it would really add to the character and define them, but it detracts and distracts. DISTRACTS. And makes the reader resentful because of the distastefulness. I hate when I'm reading and something slows me down like pulling through mud when scenes were going along swimmingly and dialect always has that effect.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 6:34 pm 
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Can you stop reading bad books?


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 6:38 pm 
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ouch!


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 7:26 pm 
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jrl wrote:
Can you stop reading bad books?


I can't when they're paying me to edit them.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 8:24 pm 
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oh my god.

so my question to you is: what do you do now? try to "standardize" the dialect? cut it all out? do you have direct client contact (and then have to tell them this face to face?)? find and replace, or seek and destroy?

[if this ever happened to me i don't know what i would do.]

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 10:32 pm 
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I talk to the people (not the author) who hire me and then they (presumably) tell me to leave it be.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 10:36 pm 
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b'fore looks like a Klingon word or something. B'fore!

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 11:22 pm 
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FootFace wrote:
I talk to the people (not the author) who hire me and then they (presumably) tell me to leave it be.

yeah, this. if i've been hired by a publisher, especially to work on fiction, i have to assume that someone in-house has made the decision to publish the manuscript essentially as is. i might do a lot of sour-faced head shaking while i work, but i don't argue with stylistic choices anymore--not since that one (academic psychology) author sent a million angry e-mails to the hiring production editor about my lack of respect for his cadence, which he had produced with myriad, seemingly haphazardly strewn commas. so painful. if i've been hired directly by an author, i'll be more forward about that kind of concern, but it's a rare and wonderful author who's actually interested in hearing about my concerns.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 11:40 pm 
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Well, this is work done for people who contract with the publisher. They're receptive to necessary changes, but of course there are liable to be differences about what constitutes necessary.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 11:56 pm 
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Erskine Caldwell is the first person I thought of. It is kind of the literary equivalent of "black face".


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2014 12:23 am 
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Yes! It is! (The character in my current manuscript isn't black, but it's still offensive.)

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2014 12:36 am 
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FootFace wrote:
Yes! It is! (The character in my current manuscript isn't black, but it's still offensive.)


Alright Alright Alright! Sound like a great part for Mathew McConaughey. Mud part II.


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2014 1:46 pm 
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Really! Stop it! Too. Much. Dialect-based foolishness.

(I know it's not quite fair for me to think he should have stopped when the book's already written and we editors aren't communicating with him. But still.)

I submitted a style sheet outlining an approach to modifying this stuff logically. It's awaiting approval from the people who hired me. There's one other editor working on a manuscript by the same author. It's getting increasingly frustrating for us.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 9:57 am 
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Unnecessary update!

I've just discovered a character with the world's most implausible (and virtually unintelligible) speech impediment.

He can't pronounce most consonants at the beginning of words, except when he can. So it's inconsistent (and therefore unrealistic) and it renders the dialogue almost unfathomable. You sit there trying to decode this guy's dialogue, only to discover that the solution to the great mystery is something like, "Oh. He's saying, 'How are you doing today?' I was hoping for more, after all that work." How can anyone think this is a compelling way to write?

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 11:13 am 
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I don't mind reading a bit of dialogue in dialect if it makes sense, but only if I know what the accent is meant to sound like. Otherwise it's just a bit irritating and cumbersome.


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 11:38 am 
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I've read a couple of great books written in dialect ("Riddley Walker," by Russell Hoban, "The Voice of the Fire," Alan Moore, "Feersum Endjinn," Iain Banks) but they are DEFINITELY the exception. And there aren't a lot of Russell Hobans or Alan Moores or Iain Bankses out there. (In fact, there aren't any Russell Hobans or Iain Bankses anywhere any more.)

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 12:20 pm 
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FootFace wrote:
How can anyone think this is a compelling way to write?

Is it coming off as a "tool" to mask how utterly terrible and not at all compelling the actual story and the writing are?


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 12:25 pm 
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solipsistnation wrote:
"The Voice of the Fire," Alan Moore


YUSSS. That first chapter is a real challenge, but man is that an incredible book.

I'm curious as to your position on Irvine Welsh, Footie. I can't recall if I've read any of his other books, but Filth was written entirely in Glaswegian dialect. Hoo boy. The only form of English that's just as baffling to me written down as it is spoken aloud.

ETA: I think A Clockwork Orange also counts as a successful book written in dialect, all the more impressive because it was a dialect completely fabricated by Anthony Burgess for the novel.

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 12:30 pm 
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Riddley Walker is a great book. One of my all-time favorites. At least in that book, the dialect is there to convey how much the world and human culture have changed. (For those of you who aren't familiar with the book, the entire thing is written phonetically. It can be very slow going, until you get the hang of it.)

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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 12:33 pm 
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It could be a lot worse. I regretfully read this whole book written in "Engrish": http://chuckpalahniuk.net/content/pygmy ... tive-witch

Palahniuk wrote some great stuff early in his career, but has been horrible for a long time since.


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 Post subject: Re: Notes from an editor
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 12:34 pm 
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vijita wrote:
FootFace wrote:
How can anyone think this is a compelling way to write?

Is it coming off as a "tool" to mask how utterly terrible and not at all compelling the actual story and the writing are?


Kind of. The characters and plot are total clichés.

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