Thursday, February 4, 2010


Don’t get too caught up in dialect. If you have an old black lady from the 1890’s, southeastern Missouri…don’t worry about getting her right down to an apostrophe. Faithfully reproducing dialect chops your work up in the worst way. It takes the reader out of the story, makes them re read lines, and makes them wonder about the sanity of the writer.

Instead, stick to general dialectical ideas. Like specific words, or phrases or expressions. If CHARACTER X lived somewhere where it “rained like watermelon gumdrop water lilies” then put that weird expression in, along with others like it. Broaden your focus, forget apostrophes and odd pluralization and focus on words and phrases. This will get the idea across WAY more effectively than an extremely specific dialect. Also, with all your characters, focus on the cadence and rhythm of their speech.

A good rule of thumb (and I forget where I read it) is to try to have at MOST one apostrophe/altered word per line. It’s not hard and fast, but it will keep you in line.

To finish, a quote from Thomas Hardy's “Tess of the d'Urbervilles”…

"Well, yes," said Mrs. Durbeyfield; and in a private tone, "at first there mid be a little pretence o't. . . But I think it will be wiser of 'ee to put your best side outward," she added.

That seriously almost looks like middle English. This is from a NOVEL and it’s still kind of a trip up…but much easier to get with. So, in screenplays…

PRACTICE WHAT DURBEYFIELD DOESN’T PREACH! Put your best foot forward, free from the hang ups and pratfalls of loyalty to dialect.

(quote taken from this article on the consistency of dialect in novels……totally different but also worth reading)

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