Question from AC_is_On:
When writing a historical piece, in regards to dialogue, how important is dialect?
There are no rules about this and – obviously – much depends upon the story’s genre and the writers approach to tone, feel and historical accuracy.
I think it pretty much boils down to two considerations: Authenticity. Readability.
Per the former, you want characters’ dialogue to feel real, appropriate to the story’s time and place. So a writer will want to do research on language of the era including colloquialisms, jargon, and idioms.
However you are not writing a documentary, so your goal is not absolute precision, but – again – dialogue that feels real, a sense of verisimilitude.
That’s where the second consideration comes in. Dialogue has to be readable. When a writer goes too far with dialect, it can be a real stumbling block to a reader. For example:
JACKSON Ahm agonna git goin' on oer yonder 'fore eht commences ta rainin' on y'all.
A writer may hear the character’s voice that way, but page after page of sides like that make for a difficult, laborious read.
That’s why my advice with the writers I teach is this: A little goes a long way. Let’s take the side above and rewrite it:
JACKSON Gonna get goin' over yonder before it commences to rainin' on y'all.
Not nearly as strenuous to read, but still conveys a sense of the character in that time and place.
The key is to find a balance point between dialect and language that feels authentic, but is readable.
What say you, GITS readers? What advice do you have about writing dialects, especially in historical stories?