Writing Tip: A Little Dialect Goes a Long Way

A touch of dialect helps establish voice, and may lend authenticity to the writing. But for the beginning writer, knowing how much is enough is often difficult.

A story studded with apostrophes and phonetically spelled words draws attention to the writing, detracting from the story. Two of the most frequent verbal habits are saying an’ for and and dropping the final g from words ending in -ing. These words occur so frequently that the printed page sprinkled with apostrophes looks odd. Not putting in the apostrophes for dropped letters–for example, simply writing an instead of an’ for and–may actually be confusing.

A better approach is to look for a few places where phonetically spelling dialect makes a difference and drop out all of the others. For example, the difference between boo-kay and bouquet is so subtle that it probably isn’t worth making the reader pause and notice. Instead, rely on vocabulary and grammar to establish voice.


    1. I hope so! But I must admit that this is a case of do-as-I-say. Although I am better at taming dialect than I once was, I still have a tendency to fall into it when I write about people and events in Appalachia. The accents of my youth are so clear in my ear that I just dump them onto the page, only to learn afterward that flows to the ear is sometimes distracting to the eye. Tips on identifying too much dialect: tons of red spell-check underlines, lots and lots of apostrophes, and finding it difficult to figure out the correct punctuation.

  1. In case a brand-newlatest article becomes available or if perhaps any changes happen on your site, I would love to read more and finding out how to make good usage of those approaches you discuss.

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