Monday, October 3, 2011

How Much Broken English is too Much?

Let me explain. As writers, we all know that real people don’t speak in complete sentences, or often times with complete words. My current wip has a lot of broken English in the dialogue. The main male character is a—for lack of a better word—hillbilly.

On a side note, most of my friends and family knows that I am terribly afraid of hillbillies. I suffer from Hillbill-a-phobia, if you will. I’m not just speaking of country/southern people. Some of my closest friends and family are county/southern. I’m talking about the people who view the film DELIVERANCE as a how-to manual. Those are the people who scare the ba-jesus out of me. So, it’s a shock to people when I tell them I’m working on a story where the love interest is a hillbilly. Hell, it shocked me too!

So anyway, this boy slaughters the English language every time he opens his mouth. I don’t want to have a bunch of garbled dialogue in this story where my readers will be scratching their heads and will eventually put the book down because they can’t understand what one of the main characters is saying.

I think about it like how J.K. Rowling wrote Hagrid. He butchered words, but he didn’t have much dialogue, as he wasn’t one of the main three characters in the Potter series.

Fortunately, my male lead is a quiet guy, usually speaking in clipped sentences. Below is an exchange between the male lead and some of the other hillbilly boys. Let me know what you think.

Wulf holds up his hand, and all talking stops. “Despite the fact that y’all seem ready to fetch the preacher man so’s he can marry you, she gone. Whatchu want me to do ‘bout it? Now think hard ‘fore you answer that.” Several seconds of silence linger in the wake of his question.
Samuel-Adam is the first to speak. “I liked her. Bring’er back.”
A scatter of agreement follows the five year olds’ demand. Wulf sighs and rolls his eyes toward the ceiling.
“I’m gonna close my door and get on wit’ my nap. When y’all come up wit’ a plan—a logical plan—wake me.”
Fitch glares Wulf. “You don’t seem like you care at all that she gone.”
“I don’t.”
Have you had a situation like this, where a lot of your dialogue needs to reflect and accent, slang, or poor grammar? How did you handle it?


LM Preston said...

I think just enough to give the feel of the character. However, it really depends on the novel and the genre. Like the subgenre 'street' loves the use of lots of slang.

Hannah Kincade said...

I haven't needed to much so far, but I'm sure the more stories I write, the more I'll need it.

Mizzez Melly Mel said...

I agree with LM, it depends on the novel. I'm currently reading The Help and the story is told in different characters' POV using each person's dialect. The book is set in the The South in the early '60's. I actually think it adds to the story and gives it depth.

Karen Denise said...

I agree, LM. What I'm trying to do is, with the characters who are "hillbillies," keep most of the dialogue normal, but the words that can show a twang, show it. Make sense? lol.

Hannah, this is the first time I've written like this as well. It's a challange because I keep having to go back and make it incorrect, but it's so much fun!

Mel, I'm reading The Help right now too! I love how it's written, because you're right, it does bring you back to that time.