Remember how I said I’m reading two books at the same time? Both on the craft of writing? Both as pre-work for Darcy Pattison’s Novel Revision Retreat? Well, I’m tackling the chapters and exercises according to a schedule and then, about once a week, a fellow attendee and I get together to compare notes. Since the chapters are somewhat random, it was kind of a synchronistic little surprise when I found both books sending me the same message this week.
Chapter ten of The First Five Pages is titled Hard to Follow and talks of creating dialogue that doesn’t detract from the reading. By that, it means that the dialogue shouldn’t slow the reader down, causing her to have to work to figure out what the characters are saying. Examples are sited. Things to avoid like:
“Ya’ll wanna know a lit’ somthin?” John asked.
“Wat tat?” Mary asked.
“Tis here roadway’s nota gonna be a letten’ tem cars passin’ tru here like hellfire.”
“Ain’t tat right! Y’all sat it.”
Ironically (or maybe not), the second book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers, has this same warning in chapter six, taking its advice even further by suggesting that, while Mark Twain could get away with exchanges like this:
“Why, Huck, doan’ de French people talk de same way we does?”
“No, Jim; you couldn’t understand a word they said—not a single word.”
“Well, now, I been ding-busted! How do dat come?”
“I don’t know; but it’s so. I got some of their jabber out a book. Spose a man was to come to you and say Polly-voo-franzy—what would you think?”
“I wouldn’t think nuff’n; I’d take en bust him over de head.”
. . . while Mark could do it, writers these days cannot. Or at least they shouldn’t. Or at least according to these two books.
And yet, consider this little tidbit:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the human mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Pterty amzanig, huh?
But so here’s my dilemma: one of my favorite characters in my manuscript is a bagpipe playing gypsy crone who’s heavy Scottish brogue has my protagonist scrunching her single eyebrow into the bridge of her nose and scratching her head. The bagpipe-playing Dame Magmata is prone to comments like “Listen ye wee peeper. I wudnae be standing aside a stranger’s dwellin’ without not askin can ya come in.” Or “Aye, tis a right goo potion ya conjured up.”
Hard to follow? I don’t know.
And then there’s the fact that the people who’ve read my manuscript and gotten to know The Dame actually love her dialect.
So I’m in a quandary here! Do I clean up her language? Send her to American school where she can learn to speak in such a way that readers don’t have to scrunch their eyebrows into their noses and scratch their heads? Or do I leave her with her quirky nuances and see how she fairs?