How to deal with thick native dialect?

by Jonothan
(eastern Kentucky)

Hello, and thank you for putting such effort into this site, it has been extremely helpful. I've wanted to write for years, and have finally found the time and the inclination to start :) My problem is, I have never had any English or Writing classes outside of high school which was over 20 years ago).

I had a question on how to express to the reader that a character has a heavy accent to speech, but I don't want it to be cumbersome to read. Here is an example of what I have:

“Shoot fire,” (“fire sounding more like “far” in his heavy eastern Kentucky accent), Darius Morgan muttered under his breath as he realized he didn't have a wrench to fit the bolts holding the alternator in place. Surveying the rest of the job that lay before him under the hood of his nearly restored 1969 Camaro, he made a vow to himself in which none of his tools be be stolen by the local riff-raff again.

I'm not certain if the parenthesis are accurate. Could you tell me if this is correct or incorrect? Would there be a better way to express this?

Also, if you could suggest any sites which would help with refreshing my knowledge of paragraph formatting, proper use of commas, dialogue punctuation, (basically, the things I should have paid attention to in English class), that would be MOST helpful.

Thank you so much for your time, your efforts in the creation of this website has placed you to "Hero" status in my book!

Answer: I'm glad you're finding my site helpful.

If this is the first time you are introducing the character, then mentioning his accent is a nice detail to include, especially since - no matter how accurately you reproduce the speech patterns - many readers won't be able to identify the accent on their own.

Explaining where the
accent comes from is also better than trying to reproduce it using phonetic spelling, which usually makes the speech difficult to read and a turn-off for the reader.

On the downside, if you are using double-inverted commas for dialogue (as is the norm) then you should probably use single inverted commas or italics for words that are not dialogue, just to be clear. Also, it is a little awkward following one quotation with another.

That said, it is a tricky passage. A possibility...

“Shoot fire,” Darius Morgan muttered under his breath as he realized he didn't have a wrench to fit the bolts holding the alternator in place. The word fire sounded more like far in his heavy eastern Kentucky accent.

Surveying the rest of the job before him...

Of course, all this assumes that Darius is not the point-of-view character, because only a POV character or narrator who was not from eastern Kentucky would think that Darius's pronunciation of "fire" was non-standard.

If this passage is being told from Darius's point of view, then only non-Kentucky accents would be notable to the narrator and the only way you can make the reader aware of Darius's accent is to capture the rhythms and vernacular as best you can (but again, no phonetics).

In the US, The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook are the standard guides to punctuation, capitalization etc. Forgive me for being old-fashioned, but you might consider buying a used copy of one of these. There are online versions, but they charge a fee to subscribe, which is probably not worthwhile unless you are an editor who needs to be updated on the most recent changes. For 99.9% of writers, any copy published in the last decade or so is more than sufficient.

Apart from that, you can find numerous articles online on these subjects. But why not go straight to the source?

Comments for How to deal with thick native dialect?

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Apr 17, 2013
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
by: Jonothan

Glen, thank you so very much for taking the time to answer my question. Your answer has been most valuable to help steer me into the direction which best suits my needs. The insight you shared on POV was invaluable, without which I'm certain my first manuscript would end up being a reader's nightmare. I have since purchased two Kindle edition books, "The Elements of Style (UPDATED 2011 EDITION)" and "Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View". I felt these were the best choices for me after much review, as they seemed to provide the best "bang for the buck" in many aspects (concise, immediate delivery, within my budget, etc.).

Once again I wish to leave you with a heart-felt "thank you". I honestly don't think words can give justice to the assistance you have provided.


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