Using Dialect – Learning From My Mistake

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
― Albert Einstein

“But what if I make a mistake?’ Will asked.
Gilan threw back his head and laughed. ‘A mistake? One mistake? You should be so lucky. You’ll make dozens! I made four or five on my first day alone! Of course you’ll make mistakes. Just don’t make any of them twice. If you do mess things up, don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to rationalize it. Recognize it and admit it and learn from it. We never stop learning, none of us
― John Flanagan Erak’s Ransom

 Everyone Makes Mistakes

Getting It Right

When using dialect as part of dialogue, it should sound real but not be too real because when “it is written as it sounds it is difficult to read.”

I should have remembered those wise words before I submitted “Alistair McBubble” to the Write at the Merge Prompt. Before you read further have a look at the version I submitted and I think you’ll understand.

Now that you have read it, I’m sure that you would agree (because I sure do) with the following comments:

I had a hard time getting through dialogue.

I think it’s a creative story, but I had a problem with the dialect.

The dialect was a little difficult to get through.

Some ‘Tools’ to Guide You

In their book The Elements of Style, 3rd edition, William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White quite correctly point out the following:

“Do not attempt to use dialect [when writing] unless you are a devoted student of the tongue you hope to reproduce. If you use dialect, be consistent. . . . The best dialect writers, by and large, are economical of their talents, they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing the reader as well as convincing him.”

At least I got one part of what they wrote correct. A first generation Canadian, I was exposed to the Scottish brogue daily. That’s where the bias to my decision lay. In fact, I attended speech classes to lose my accent. They wanted me to speak Canadian, eh. I still easily lapse into the brogue over a few pints when I’m surrounded by Scottish folk. My wife is always amazed by how easily I do that.

Unfortunately, I was not “economical” in the use of the dialect in the dialogue and by not choosing “the minimum of deviation from the norm,” I compromised the story. Quite bluntly, I should have known better. Then I thought: “What a great opportunity! Maybe others can learn from my mistake.” And, that’s how this post came about.

Stay Connected

According to Lori L. Lake:

  “ … fiction is best when it conjures up verisimilitude, using dialect in your writing can lend color, accuracy, and liveliness. Use of proper dialect helps to vividly express a character’s identity and to spark readers’ interest in both narrative and characterization.”

If not used correctly, dialect can be a ‘ball and chain’ to the flow of your story and literally ‘turn off’ the reader. That’s why it’s important for other writers to read your work on a frequent basis. Their feedback is invaluable!

As my examples and links have shown, there is clearly a right way and wrong way to incorporate dialect into dialogue. Don’t lapse into heavy dialect because it discourages readers from reading. If you work at keeping the dialogue consistent, convincing and economical, you will do alright in staying connected to your reader.

If you don’t belong to writing groups similar to Write at the Merge or Trifecta, I encourage you to give them a try. You will not regret it.

Now, I give you again – Alistair McBubble: revised version.

Hopefully, I’ve got it right this time. What do you think?

Tartan HatAlistair McBubble

Alistair McBubble was born to Florrie and Hugh on March 14, 2013 at precisely 9:47:15 A.M.  After delivery, Doctor McAlister completed a few preliminary tests and assured them that Alistair was indeed spherical in shape.

“Ur ye sure? Florrie asked. “Without that shape …well…ay don’t want tae…That shape ensures he has the minimum surface energy and the—“

“Lowest ratio of surface area tae volume,” interjected Dr. McAlister. “I know all of that.”

Furrows formed at the bridge of Florrie’s nose. She peered at him with a look of consternation. “If ay remember correctly, doctur, ye said that before.”

“Florrie!  Don’t pinch yer forehead like that,” Doctor McAlister commanded. Softening her expression, she looked up at him. “Florrie, I will test for the Marangoni effect, if that makes ye feel better.”

“It woods,” she retorted.

“I will get Hugh.”

Hugh and Florrie remained on pins and needles—figuratively speaking—waiting for the results. When the doctor returned and told them that the surface tension on Alistair was stable, they were overjoyed.

“Och, Hugh, we finally hae a perfect McBubble.”

“Och aye,” rejoined Hugh, puffing his chest out with pride, “we dae.”

“Don’t get carried away, Hugh,” warned the doctor.

Hugh’s face took on a dismayed appearance that alarmed Florrie.

“Whit in heaven’s nam is wrang, Hugh?” she pleaded.

Speechless, he pointed to the location beside Florrie.

“Ack!” Florrie screamed. “He’s taken flight!”

Alistair’s choice would have been to remain with his parents but his destiny was ordained the moment that gust of wind swooped him up and ushered him off.

As Alistair wiped away his tears, a deep voice startled him.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Glancing back, Alistair saw two bubbles coming up quickly behind him. “An’, why not?” he asked, perturbed by this interruption.

“Because… it doesn’t matter now…you’ve already done it. I was just going to say it would thin out your surface.”

“An’, why shoods that matter?” Alistair replied snootily.

“He doesn’t know anything, Albert,” giggled the girl. “He even talks funny.”

“Who ur you two anyway?” Alistair asked, unable to hide his displeasure with her comments.

“I’m Albert and she’s my sister, Alicia. I can see you’re interested in what I’m doing.” He held up the miniature chalkboard.

Alistair nodded and moved closer.

“Not too close.” Pointing at his chalkboard he said:”It’s an equation.”

“What diz it do?” Alistair asked with great interest.

“Oh!” Alicia interrupted. No longer giggling, she pointed at Alistair. “His color has changed. He was bluish-green when we arrived and he’s now more yellow.”

“We must get out of the sun.”

“What’s happenin’? I’m almost colorless.”

“The film that formed you is much thinner. That’s why…”

Looking at each other, their faces filled with anguish.

Albert pointed to the old castle below. “We must hide there until dark…maybe…”




3 thoughts on “Using Dialect – Learning From My Mistake

  1. I came over to check out your Write on Edge piece, and couldn’t help noticing the follow up link on your sidebar. I can’t tell you how cool it is that you took your feedback and ran with it. I really liked the spirit of the piece, but like some of the others, the dialect was hard to read (though in fairness, I’m not unfamiliar with the sound of Scots, so read aloud, I don’t doubt it sounded right). I’m glad I caught the rewrite.

  2. So much easier to read! The story was adorable and funny. I read the other version three times and only reading it this time was I able to get the full gist of it all. Awesome. 🙂

    • Thanks for taking the time to read “Alistair McBubble” again. It is part of a larger math-science story for younger children to learn about soap bubbles. It was difficult to stay within the 500 word limit requirement for the Write at the Merge prompt “The Unlikely Hero.” I agree, Virginia is a very interesting person; a non-fiction fiction, I am presently in the process of writing her whole story.

      > Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2013 21:43:39 +0000 > To: >

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