Friday Feature: Just a Bit O’ Dialect by Expert Story Teller David Francis Curran

Just A Bit O’ Dialect

Dialect can make anything from a Sci-fi novel to a western story come alive with unique and realistic voices. But if your English fiction contains text as obtuse as:

Da grill da bik rude

it is unlikely that your work will be published.

To master the mystery of writing good dialect it helps to have a little insight into the difference between the rules of English, and effective communication. Some years ago a communications researcher at the University of Colorado, Dr. Sally Planalp, did a study on transitions. She took articles featuring various types of transitional links between paragraphs, broke them up into individual paragraphs, and then scored each transition on how well students could put the paragraphs back in the proper order using transitions as the key.

Most of us are to used to the idea that there are rules in the English language and students get graded on how well they know them. What Planalp did was grade the rules on how well they helped people understand what was going on. When we write in dialect we are breaking the rules. What we need to know is how to break them in such a way that people will still know what is going on.

There are three basic rules that pretty much sum up how we understand what we do understand in our language.

Semantic rules govern the meaning assigned to words. For example in the obtuse example above I substituted “da” for “the.” Semantic rules are arbitrary. There is no reason, for example, why a cat couldn’t have been named a “Meow.”

Syntactic rules govern the way in which sentences are put together in a language. In English we would say “The girl rode the bike.” Other languages have different syntactic rules. A German, would say, for example, “The girl the bike rode.”

The final rule, is Regulative. These govern the meaning of a communication based on the context. For example, the difference in a mother saying, “Johnny!” when her son gets a good report card, and “Johnny!” when the boy has just emptied the entire laundry detergent box into the washer. There is much more to regulative rules. They are the reason that, even though we somethings mispronounce words, or use the wrong words when speaking, our friends still understand us. If you make the context clear your dialect will always be understandable.

Now that you know the rules you can write effective dialect. To write effective dialect, that is dialect your reader will be able to understand, break either the semantic or syntactic rules but never more than one of these rules at any given time.

To prove this, in my fiction writing classes I give students one long paragraph to translate in which I’ve broken only the semantic rules. I’ve included a shorter example below. (It will probably be more fun to try solving this by reading it out loud with a friend.) See if you can figure it out.

Hum pieity Dun pieity at onta wrull. Hum pieity Dun pieity wrad o grit brawl. Sol ta binks borsis wrend sol ta binks ben, wroudn’t but Hum pieity agrather awren.

Similar things have successfully appeared in popular fiction. In Larry Shue’scomic play The Foreigner the main character is presented as someone who does not speak English. When asked to tell a story, he tells Little Red Riding Hood, substituting made up words for the English equivalent. The audience always gets it, the characters on the set think it sounds familiar and the result is hilarious.

Did you solve the example above yet? As in Shue’s play I used regulative trick to help you. In both the story in Shue’s play and the nursery rhyme I used in my example above,the words sound a bit like the original English words. The sound helps, but when understanding comes it is more than just the sound of the words, it is that the syntax is English and words themselves sound familiar. The sound helps remind you of a context that you should remember from your childhood.

Let’s go back to the obtuse example at the beginning of this article. “Da grill da bik rude” hard to understand is that two rules have been broken, syntactic and semantic. You probably guessed by now that this is an attempt at a German accent, saying, “The girl the bike rode.” Two far simpler ways to hint at the German accent and still get the color of the speakers voice across would be:

(1) To use the german syntax with only words that can be found in an English dictionary, “The frÑulein the bike rode.”

(2) Or to use some German, or made up German words but with English syntax. “Da frÑulein rode da bike.” If you use another languages syntactic rules(1) your writing will be far harder for English readers to understand.

If you must break syntactic rules keep your writing to short sentences. The second version(2) gives a sense of a foreign language but is much easier for an English readers to follow, and is the most often recommended way to include dialect in a story.

We’ve talked about semantic and syntactic rules, but not regulative rules. Regulative rules are the most important of all. Regulative rules govern the meaning of what is written in the context of how you tell the story. Regulative rules are so important that, If you make the context clear enough you can go beyond dialect and even write in a foreign language. If you set up the context so well, that when a character speaks in a foreign tongue we know from the context ( that has been given in English ) the basic gist of what the character must say. Randy Wayne White in his Doc Ford mystery series does this exceptionally well in books like North of Havana. However, again, you want to keep the foreign language sections as short as possible.

One thing you should keep in mind when using dialect is that there is a paradox in the “translation” of foreign languages. Look at these examples of translations of Ihara Saikaku’s book The story of Seijuro in Himeji.

Here is a short section of the translation by Wm. Theodore De Bary:

1. Darkness is the time for Love; Love makes night of day In spring the treasure ships lay, with waves their pillows, on a quiet sea before the bustling harbor of Murotsu. . . .

Here is the exact same work translated by Ivan Morris:

1. Love Is Darkness, But in the Land of Love the Darkest Night Is Bright as Noon. The town of Murotsu is a great bustling harbour and here, in the peaceful springtime waves, rest the ships with their heavy cargos of treasure. . . .

I ask my students, how can two men, translating the exact same text come up with such different translations. The paradox is that in languages with far different grammatical rules, words and metaphors, the writer’s tools, may not be directly “translatable” into English and vice versa. Which means you should concentrate on capturing your story and not worry too much about the language. Dialect should be used only to give your writing flavor, like spice in cooking. If you put too much in and try to capture the foreign language itself you’ll ruin your soup.

To used dialect effectively break either syntactic or semantic rules, but break only one of these rules. Then use dialect sparingly, and your fiction will come alive.

David Francis Curran

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Many Thanks, David!

noreen

Food Crimes: How PSL Saved My Life.

We’ve all had those days. For one reason or another, we didn’t get enough sleep, on the verge of exhaustion, or worse – near ill, but we need to make it through, we need to show up and be functional.

Enter: Caffeine. psl3

Every day I read a different article about caffeine, it’s good, it’s bad, tea has more, coffee has more, they have antioxidant effects, people live longer, live shorter. No one study has definitively come up with one right answer.

But here’s the truth:  Too much caffeine can cause anxiety.

psl2See me two months ago for my first set of anxiety attacks. There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m usually the queen of calm. But too much caffeine and not enough physical exercise, and the onset of anxiety happens.  I know this because my sisters have anxiety and the first thing their doctors said is “cut out the caffeine and chocolate.”

Well, before I let a doctor tell me to cut out chocolate, I decided to ease back. During the summer, I’d been drinking three or four cups of tea by 2pm and sometimes an added cup of coffee by 4pm.  I know some people drink coffee all day long and are not affected; it’s what you’re used to and what your body can take. Mine decided too much was too much. I cut back to one cup a day. It wasn’t too hard. I actually still had two cups made from one tea bag; my way of cheating.

Then, school begins. Not related to caffeine, or coffee, psl1tea, chocolate or any guilty pleasures, but to a new schedule and my body trying to get used to it – I spent one night tossing and turning and getting up and laying down, breathing deep and keeping my eyes closed, but to no avail – I ended up falling asleep around 4 in order to wake up at 6am. I felt zombie-like.

I made it through my first class, but had another class to teach after an hour of office meetings.

Enter: PSL.

pslStarbucks sent me an email (yes, me personally, about their early release of Pumpkin Spice Latte), but I ignored it, telling myself I was off the hard stuff. I didn’t need any espresso and sugar to get me through the day, just good healthy food and clean, clear water. Besides, it’s far too early to imbibe on pumpkin anything.

But, see, it was one of those damn dirty lies we tell ourselves. When our next sleep is off on some unknown horizon, we must continue to function. My car turned, almost automatically into the Starbucks parking lot, and I found myself in a mist, floating to the barista as they handed me an iced-grande-half-caff-PSL-no whip.

The mixture of caffeine and sugar, the delishness of it all, kept me awake so I could earn a living, not fall on my face in front of 30 some students, and hold worthwhile conversations (I hope), with my colleagues.

Good, bad, friend or fiend, crime or not, caffeine isn’t going anywhere. Thank goodness.

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Friday Feature: Valerie Cooper and Finding Writing Time

I’m more familiar with Valerie Cooper’s poetry, as we’ve both appeared in Delphinium Literary Magazine. So when she contacted me about writing a piece about finding time, I thought she’d have something important to say. We’re both single parents, except mine are now grown, which gives me more time. Hers is still quite young – and as I once did – she searches for little bits of time to write.

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vcooper1As a single parent, writing can be difficult. I’m required to be creative and write around my daughter’s schedule. I find time in the mornings, for twenty or thirty minutes, before I get her up for pre-school. At work, I take five minutes here and there when I can to make notes or outline an idea or twElise Climbing Rocks in Central Park NYCo. I get another hour, if I’m not too tired, after I read her stories and put her to sleep.

I know my friends who don’t have kids have more time than I. But, also, my friends who don’t have kids aren’t as focused as I am on being successful. Children take a lot of your time, much of your energy, but what you receive in return is far more satisfying than much else life has to offer. My daughter inspires me to work harder, to be successful. Before her, I thought, “I’ll get there some day.” But after she was born and I looked into those big, beautiful eyes, it lit a fire under me!

Many writers complain about not enough writing time. Life is busy and messy. We need to work around it. So sometimes I get up early. Other times, I stay up late. I get creative and grab what might be otherwise wasted moments.

vcooper3I write poetry in the park on warm Saturday afternoons while the children are screaming with joy on the climbing gym. I write lyrics in the parking lot, in the chilled air of my car, waiting for pre-school to end. I outline a story over the humid stove, while my daughter waits impatiently at the dining room table, chomping on carrots.

There is time, it just comes in increments, joyfully swinging around everything else in your life. It’s there. You just have to grasp it.

Valerie Cooper

Delphinium

The Kiss

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Thanks, Valerie. Much Luck!

For everyone else, I suggest one of these!

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Writer Wednesday: Writer Dreams

We all get those ideas that occur to us in the middle of the night as we’re rolling over, sleepwe reach for a pillow and poof – a story occurs to us.  Some of us continue to snuggle tight to that pillow and tell ourselves we’ll remember it in the morning …zzzzz… and it’s gone; others of us roll back over, grab that notebook and make notes.

Some of those notes are not going to make a darn bit of sense in the morning, some will. My idea for “Of Strays and Exes” came to me in the middle of the night in the form of a strange first line…  “when I ran over my neighbor’s dog…”  I grabbed that notebook and started scribbling. I put it down, only to take it up again and again until I finally got out of bed and wrote nearly the whole story before climbing back into bed for an hour’s sleep before work.

sleep1There’s something magical happening in our brains at certain moments during the night. We’re transitioning from deep rem sleep back to stage one, nrem sleep, where we are most likely to be awakened; this is also about the time, along with other times, that hypnagogic sleep is taking place. This is a transitional state for our minds and bodies, and the best time for “stories” to happen.

During that hypnagogic stage. We’re barely asleep, barely awake and sparks are happening between neurons that give us bright ideas, great lines, interesting themes.

Most of us are working people who have to get up in the morning and go to work or raise our children or help our parents, so we don’t grab those moments as we might if say – we were independently wealthy and didn’t have to do a 9 to 5er. charlie

If you can’t write at night, try to capture that hypnagogic state during your disciplined writing time or  other random moments.

I had to have an MRI recently. Have you ever been in one of those machines, clicking, burring, whirring, and it sounds like you’re trapped in a jet engine of sorts?  I put myself in one of those states and by the time the technician was pulling me out, I wanted to stay in longer.

It’s meditation and breathing – you knew I was going to say that. But for this meditation, lay down, think about your breathing while blocking everything out except the images of your story.

If you’re using this to create stories, think blue sky, blue sky, blue sky while breathing in and out. Let whatever happens in that sky occur. When you come up on an image that works for you – and you will – follow that image like a cloud in the sky, see where it takes you.

Or – of course – if you can, get up in the middle of the night and follow those half-wakeful/half hypnagogic dreams…

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Friday Feature – Motivational Author Anda Stan: “To Be or Not to Be the One of Your Own Life…”

Man jump through the gap between hill.man jumping over cliff on              Funny title, right? It is. But, it is also true and powerful on many levels. “The one” usually represents your one and only significant other in love matters. Still, how about being yourself “the one” in all the aspects of your life? Sounds crazy? Maybe, at first. But, being the one of your own life means tremendous power for yourself and your overall life….

We always look for support from others and we think we have no one in our life to rely upon in times of need. We feel that we are weak, and backup is needed. And we are right, but we forget the most important thing: we forget about ourselves.

Remember my dear one, we are our first most reliable party in our lives. Friends, lovers, even family at times, tend to betray us, let us down, make us feel alone and in misery. Hence, find the power of your own self. That doesn’t mean to isolate yourself from them, that means to be “the one” of your own life.

Understand the fact that you are someone of great importance in your own life. You are someone that can make things happen for you without delay. You are someone that can manifest your biggest desires. You are someone amazing that can really get the sun or the moon from the sky and put it on your own feet. You are THE ONE!

You may think that what I am saying may be to big of a theory. In fact, it isn’t. How many successful people have you heard they became successful with the help of others? And how many successful people have you heard they became successful with the help of their self? I think and know the answer is more, way more for the second question. They were “THE ONE” of their own lives.

See, you may become the most powerful person in your life. Can you say that you aren’t the most reliable person in your own life? Can you say that as long as you have a mindset and a goal in your life you will not make anything that stands in your own powers and more to accomplish that? Can you say that you will betray yourself and your success? Yes, you are the most reliable person in your own life. Yes, you can accomplish anything you have a mindset and goal upon. No, you will never betray yourself and your own success.

anda4              For example, you want to be a writer? Who is the first person that can help you with that? You are! You want to start a successful business? Who is the first person that can help you with that? You are! You want to have money? Who can do that fast enough for you? You can! You want to become independent in a way or another? Who can first help you with that? You can! See? Why would you wait for others to do or make things for you as long as you can? Why wait and meet with disappointments of all kinds? Some promise and never keep their promises. Some don’t say a word, but keep you on your toes, and again, you meet with disappointment, and so on.

We always forget of how powerful we are as individuals. We always tend to rely on others for solutions and resolutions, when we can simply take a decision and act strongly upon it. It’s not going to be easy. That’s a given my friend. But, what’s easy in this world? The difference is that you are THE ONE making a huge difference in your own life. You are THE ONE that solves things. You are THE ONE that is reliable for you. You are THE ONE that won’t disappoint you. You are THE ONE that will first taste the success of your accomplishments. You are THE ONE that will become respected. And last but not least, you are THE ONE that will gain respect towards your own self! And that’s huge my dear one! Respecting yourself and acknowledging your own self, your own value is something incredible!

Why do we always belittle ourselves and think that others will have the power to help us in a way or another? Why do we always tend to be supporting characters of our own lives? Why don’t we want to be the main character? Why don’t we allow ourselves to become the heroes? Why?!

If we find that “love yourself or lose power” thing in our lives, we are capable of magical things. We can achieve everything we want and need. Well, true, you might say that it’s too much in naming “everything”, but how about “almost everything” and leave room for the “element of surprise”? It’s doable. Trust me. Compared to the numerous occasions when you had hope from others, were promised for things, were let to wait for ever and so on, how many of those materialized for you? Too little, right? And when you found the power, will within you to do something, to make something, to accomplish something, how many times you were disappointed, didn’t accomplish? I think that 90% at least you were a winner for yourself.

anda3           The power of being THE ONE of your own life is at your finger tip.  Start being THE ONE! Let others become your supporting characters and you the action maker! Be the writer of your own story! Create your own destiny! Create your one and only! Manifest amazing things for you that only you can! Taste the sweet success of your own efforts! Make things happen according to your own will! Be the magician of your own life and materialize your wants and needs! Be the next Bill Gates, Oprah and so on! They both started on their own, one had more misery at first than the other and see them now! They had the power and magic on relying on themselves and on nobody else! They both believed in being THE ONE of their lives! They took action, they became their own heroes, and now they bask in the success and material needs they themselves created with the power of being THE ONE!

You can do it too! Just find yourself, believe in yourself, rely on yourself, persevere, never let yourself down from others, and hit the jackpot for yourself and for your own life my friend!

Well, if you don’t believe me, why don’t you give it a try and see for yourself what magic powers being THE ONE has for you too? 😉

Wish you all to find yourself and manifest everything you want with an element of surprise! 😊 😉

Blessings!

Your true friend always,

Anda Stananda

http://andastan.com/

A few things about me: Among other things I am a writer. I am currently working on two books. One is fiction, “Chris Carter and The Prince of Darkness”, a supernatural, paranormal story with a bit of romance, and the other is nonfiction, “Love Yourself Or Lose Power”, a motivational, inspirational, self-improvement book. For a taste of them, you can go to my website and read first parts of them. Love yourself at all times my friend!

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Many thanks, Anda, for sharing!

noreen

 

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Writer Wednesday: Critique Partners – a little bit of heaven!

Some years ago, I belonged to a critique group. critique-3-300x225Of the four writers, none had been published and I became the only one who expressed specific goals. In one session, a women writer spent the whole time helping another writer without responding to the rest of us. It sometimes happened, so we weren’t offended; but the following week, the same woman spent two minutes on mine and said something to the effect, “I don’t even know what to tell you with this…” before moving to another person. I realized I was wasting my time there.

Years after that, at a meeting, I sat next to a colleague I barely knew. She mentioned she was a writer, and we soon struck up a friendship and critique partnership.

critiqueWe’d meet once a week or once every other week to read and review each other’s work. Timing and responses began bumpy but smoothed out rather quickly. We were near the same writing level, although I give her credit for being better than I. As we got to know one another, we understood what the other was attempting to accomplish in their own fiction. This helped us read one another’s work more productively.

The most important elements in a critique partnership is respecting the other, giving honest opinions without being brutal, and accepting criticism. As professionals, we didn’t experience issues in offering or receiving the feedback. At some points, we may have disagreed, but we didn’t let it interrupt what had (and has) become a successful venture.

My writing has vastly improved because of this partnership. I benefited from the critique1authentic and detailed critiques with increased confidence, which lead me to more submissions, and ultimately more publications.

 

How you might form a successful alliance:

  • A mutual understanding of writing goals and aesthetics.
  • Similar level of writing experience (or someone who has more than you. You want to grow from this experience and you’ll have a chance to give back.)
  • Trust & honesty – go hand in hand.
  • Time and availability to meet or exchange work.
  • Although it may help if you write in the same genre, it’s not required.

 

For those of you who have partners or experiences, did I miss anything?

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Friday Feature: Writing as Courtship – Timothy Savage

When Timothy Savage speaks of Davey’s Savior, his novel about a father and son, it’s with a passion which encourages the reader to pick it up. He uses that same passion in almost everything he does from caring for his own son to detailing the journey of Davy and his father.

I knew when I asked Timothy to write something, he’d present something marvelous…. and so he has.

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Revision as Courtship

courtshipCourtship is romance taken form. It’s where those thoughts and fantasies translate into actions, from the ordinary chocolates and flowers to those thoughtful gestures, everything from a caress of the hand to simple time spent in conversation, all taking place behind a barrier of uncertainty. You spend time with that special someone, you share meals and thoughts and feelings, you enjoy those little tingles that come from being in their presence, but you don’t yet cross into intimacy. Perhaps you’re old-fashioned, or imagine yourself as gentlemanly or ladylike; you save something for later. In any case, you’re not quite at that point of leaping into their arms with wild abandon.

That’s okay. Sometimes saving something for later is a good thing, even as you relish those moments together without quite sharing everything. It’s all driven by a simple truth: Courtship is a time for getting to know each other, and to be blunt, for sizing each other up.

In a long-term romance meant to last, you need to see them — and they need to see you — exactly as you both are. You need to see them happy, angry, confounded, upset, blissful. courtship2To see into their soul. To see whether it’s safe to make yourself vulnerable before blending your soul with theirs. To see your own flaws and those of your partner in clear focus, to get beneath the layers of what someone might project, and instead look for and grab onto those glimpses of truth beneath the veneer of attraction…

Wait a minute. If this is a column about writing for writers, why do I have romance on the mind? Easy. For writers, it’s like this when you’re about to embark on the process of revision. Many writers – myself included – feel a kind of anxiety, a hesitation, before diving into the process of editing and revision. You stare at your draft without moving, afraid to press a key or redline that sentence for fear of screwing everything up. It’s the same anxiety one feels before dialing that special someone for the very first time.

Writing — especially the art of crafting a book — can be thought of as a long-term romance with your story. And that sizing-up process, the very beginning of courtship, is an important first step in editing and revisions, too.

As an author, you need to make yourself vulnerable to your manuscript, to see it exactly as it is. To seek out those “warts and all” glimpses of its true nature. It’s the moment and author and manuscript test each other through presence, seeing whether they enjoy each other’s company after spending long periods of time together, or seeing whether they’d rather hide in the washroom and phone a friend for rescue.

But if you enjoy the experience together, if you enjoy spending that time and look forward to the next conversation, maybe it’s time to dig back in and read that manuscript as a reader would, as someone who’s not quite made themselves vulnerable to possibility of intimacy.

Personally, I’ve made a practice of revising “big to small.” What I mean by that is the act of seeing my story as a whole, of taking in the work-in-progress with all its flaws and foibles, sizing up its true essence, and determining what changes are necessary in a structural way to bring that story I’d envisioned into reality. Eventually I focus on smaller and smaller details; not story structure or overall plots, but the little touches that keep the reader enthralled. It’s a little like going from that first casual dinner to the first moment “alone together”; reach that level and it’s just the two of you in a dance, in the hopes of making it all work.

Revising “big to small” meant courting my other characters all over again. Looking at each of those peripheral stories in my manuscript with a critical eye, deciding whether they added to the central relationship in my book or distracted from it. Deciding which of those scenes were necessary, what worked and what did not. Deciding what should remain, and what could be safely relegated to a “cuts” folder for later consideration or swipe-left deletion.

courtship2In the end, after many dates with my manuscript that ranged through blind and awkward, rushed and too quick, exciting and anticipatory, intimate and ecstatic, the story evolved into better forms than ever taken before. I saw it for what it was, working through the small details, caressing each sentence and nuance until the story as envisioned came across as “meant to be.”

Revision is courtship. And courtship, despite the nerves and uncertainties and awkward moments, is fun. So don’t be afraid to dive right in. Swipe right on that revision. Hold that car door open, and bring along the flowers and candy for both of you. In the end, whether your revision succeeds or fails — whether the relationship with your manuscript lasts or fizzles during the courtship of revision — you’ll be a better author for having the courage to experience it.

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Noreen, thank you for the invitation to contribute to your ‘Friday Feature!’ Dashing off a blog post about writing is always great fun, and if it helps to inspire another writer or two, excellent!

Speaking of inspiration, I want to give a little credit where credit is due. The idea of ‘Revision as Courtship’ came out of discussions and collaborations with my dear, dear friend, writing partner across the pond, editor, and author of the 17th Century Midwives series of historical fiction novels, Annelisa Christensen. Her insights helped me to view revisions with something other than anxiety, and for that I am forever grateful.

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Thank you, Timothy.

You can find Davey’s Savior on Amazon

Tim’s Website – where you might find a little inspiration or even some help!

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