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  1. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    How do readers feel about dropped letters in speech?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by NanashiNoProfile, Aug 24, 2014.

    Hi!

    I'm writing a few chapters at the moment that revolve around a group of brutish people that take my main character captive. They come from a different part of the world to my MC and are clearly uneducated in comparison to him.

    In writing their speech, I've taken to dropping the odd consonant from the beginning and ends of some words. It makes them feel a bit rougher, and is certainly how I imagine them to speak, but I was wondering if readers actually enjoyed this method of writing or found it difficult to follow? Obviously I can follow it well because I'm writing it, and when I've come across the style before I've not really been bothered by it (which is why I've used it I guess). The words I've dropped a letter from are obvious (I think), so it doesn't make the speech unintelligible as far as I can tell. It's not a huge part of the story, and only affects characters that will soon be lying in pieces about the street :)

    If it isn't something you particularly enjoy, do you know of any other ways to infer accents other than simply saying: "blah blah blah," he spoke with a thick accent.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If it fits, it's all good. A lot of books have huge chunks of dialect or slang, so there are plenty of examples out there.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I prefer dialect/slang to be reflected with word choice and phrasing, rather than phonetics--even when the phonetics are just dropped letters.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. If you must use phonetic misspells, keep it sparse. It gets old really fast.

    People read by word pattern recognition, and the first and last letters are particularly important. If you disrupt this pattern recognition and force readers to mentally sound out the word, you've thrown a major speed bump before them.
     
  5. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do it sparingly. Probably no more than once every few pages.

    The reason for any particular word to have a letter omitted should not be "I want this character to appear brutish, so I followed daemon's advice and sparingly sprinkled some letter omissions into this dialogue."

    It should be "I wrote this word and then noticed that the character said it a certain way in my imagination, so I tried omitting a letter from it and it just looked right that way."
     
  6. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    Cool. Well, like I said, I've only used this during a couple of short sections of the story and only from a few characters with small parts. I think it works well in context with the passage and the descriptions of the characters that the speech comes from. A couple of colleagues who are reading over it have since said that they felt it worked, and while I know that two readers don't equal a wider audience, I think it's enough to move on from this bit for now until I come back to editing the chapters later on.

    Cheers for your responses! :)
     
  7. DromedaryLights
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    DromedaryLights Active Member

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    If it works, it works. Haters be damned.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    He asked for an opinion. Responding to his request makes one a "hater"?

    Sheesh.
     
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  9. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    You can always tell a great trashy romance novel by the way the Scottish brogue is baked into the text.

    If you are not writing a great trashy romance novel you might want to tread lightly.
     
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  10. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    Dialogue quotes from Harry Hebron's western novel, "Dead Men Don't Shoot Back". Black Horse Press.

    "Ain't done had me no woman since I can't remember when,"

    "Ifen yur was a hankerin tu draw on thet sheriff, yur sure as thet there apple is red will be dead fur the yu hit the dirt."

    Right or wrong, the dialogue does not require character descriptive narrative. The dialogue tells you that the man is not educated, probably is older than dirt, wears rumbled close with dusty old boots and the setting is in a western town. Can you picture a white beard and a curled up brim on his hat?

    To my way of thinking, dialogue should be given a lot of latitude when it comes to letting the dialogue describe your character. Just be sure that your narrative is written within the rules of good grammar.

    I say go for it.

    Gloria
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Totally TOTALLY get this!! OMigod... And we won't name names, will we?

    Lots of Scottish writers get the brogue 'right,' and it works well. It's hard to write Scottish speech without using some of it, because the vernacular is so strong. But get it wrong ...hoots, mon ...aaarggh.

    I'd say when writing anybody who speaks off-centre (ie 'received' pronunciation) it's best to go lightly with the dropped letters and phonetic reproductions. While it might give a more exact replication of the way the speech sounds, it's horribly hard to read.

    @Gloria Sythe

    "Ifen yur was a hankerin tu draw on thet sheriff, yur sure as thet there apple is red will be dead fur the yu hit the dirt."

    "Iffen you was a-hankerin to draw on that sheriff, you sure as that there apple is red will be dead afore you hit the dirt."

    You used 9 non-standard words in your speech. I used 3. I think both speeches convey a similar impression of the speaker, but I think the second version is easier to read. (Okay, tweak it if it's not quite what you intended—this is just an illustration that less is sometimes more.) This is my opinion, anyway. (Edit: The OP pointed out these are quotes from a Harry Hebron Western ...a fact I missed when I posted this. Blame the coffee. Anyway, sorry for attributing them to you, Gloria.)

    I think your version would work if it was only one line, and the only line we get from a minor character, and the point of the line is to demonstrate that the speaker's English is nearly incomprehensible. But if the conversation goes on in this vein, I think the passage would become quickly unreadable. That kind of phonetic dialogue reproduction calls undue attention to itself, and can become a distraction rather than an asset to the story.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2014
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  12. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    See, I find those examples easy to read and in my own opinion it makes for more layers of detail with regards to the characters. After his lines, I don't need to be told where he is from, what his level of education is etc... Of course, that's my opinion (and yours it seems) and you can't always please everyone, but I've enjoyed adding parts like this and I do want to keep them!

    I'm wondering if my easy acceptance of speech written like that comes from working on videogames and subtitles. We use styles like that a lot and there isn't much room for extra narrative to explain why they speak like they do. Therefore, the text used for speech brings out their dialect one conversation window at at time - personally, I love it!

    Below is an example (not quite off-topic, there are dropped letters!). Not one I've worked on, but one I particularly like. I think it hints much more at the nature of the characters than straight up text would, and is along the lines of what I was doing in my own story :)

    unnamed.jpg
     
  13. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    I believe these were lines from a published book, Gloria referenced it: Harry Hebron's western novel, "Dead Men Don't Shoot Back". Black Horse Press.
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry I missed the fact that the quote was from a published book, and not @Gloria Sythe 's own work. I stand by my opinion, though. My point was that an extended conversation written that way would be extremely hard to read. I was responding to your OP, regarding how we feel about dropped letters and such. I like a limited use of them, but if every other word is substituted with an replication of the exact sound of the speech—as in that example—and it goes on and on ...I think it's not a good idea.

    I am not familiar with that particular Western, or with Harry Hebron. I'm a big fan of Western writer Elmer Kelton, and he manages to convey Western speech patterns much more readably.

    Here are a couple of quotes picked at random from Kelton's The Day The Cowboys Quit:

    Fant grinned like a possum. "Howdy boys. Howdy, Hitch. My, it's good to see you "W" boys come in thisaway. Makes a man feel like all his good efforts ain't been in vain."

    "You've took on men like Torrington and Selkirk; you've put the challenge to them. Anybody that backs you up, it means he's took them on, too. That's a big thing for a man to have hangin' over his head if he intends to stay in this country. A man wants to think twice before he goes to angryin' up the likes of them, and the power they got behind them."


    I've underlined the words that are not standard English. There are a few ungrammatical bits of language in there as well, but both of the Kelton speeches are very very readable, unlike that Hebron example. They are also very region-specific and do a good job of illuminating the characters. I know which author I would prefer to read, if these samples are representative of what their books contain.
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    What about books like Their Eyes Were Watching God? Are we going to toss them aside simply because they were written in a particular dialect? Here's a sample from the book:
     
  16. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I'd have to side with @jannert on this one. Too many misspellings and purposeful grammatical errors make me have to read the sentence and concentrate on context, not accent or dialect. If the setting is done well with maybe a sprinkling phonetics, the reader should be reading in the correct tone.
     
  17. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    It's a delicate balance.

    Personally, I can't stand seeing o' used for of, or an' for and. Not even once. Turns me right off. But drop a g, like in followin', and that's okay.

    Everyone has a different tolerance for this sort of thing, so it's best to use it only when absolutely necessary as to annoy the least amount of readers as possible.
     
  18. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    I have a lot of London character in my WIP and trying to accurately represent their accents would make it unreadable. For example, working class Londoners generally cannot pronounce a voiced th so pronounce it with an f instead. So thirty, thick and thigh becomes firty, fick and figh.

    The unvoiced th often becomes a d or a v. The becomes da and with becomes wiv.

    Prepositions like to can be compressed down to a barely audible a.

    And the t in the middle of a word is sometimes not pronounced at all, with just this thing called a glottal stop used instead, so water and tomato become wa-ah and toma-ah.

    So an expression like "I went to the theatre" expressed accurately would be "I wen ada fear-ah"

    I just prefer to make reference to the accents in the narrative and drop the odd letter here and there.
     
  19. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    A politically correct person (i.e. not me) might argue that representing accents phonetically says one group is better than another group because they speak English correctly and the other group does not.

    Does one person say "dahling" or does another person say "darrrling"?
     

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