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I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Van-ill-ah...Van-ell-ah



I have noticed something as I hone my writing skills and interact with other writers and groups for feedback on my writing. Dialect can really impact how you phrase words and sentences without you even being aware of it.

For instance, it has taken a conscious effort on my part to stop making a and while one word. To me awhile means a length of time that is uncertain but could take some time. In other words, don't rush to schedule something else right afterwards, you could be held up awhile. It is one word, and I say it that way. I've also always written it that way. It wasn't a conscious thing and I might never have caught it if my writing teacher hadn't noticed it. Here is another example of how dialect can affect your turn of phrase or how you write something. When you are talking about moving from one place to the other do you move toward it or towards it? Apparently some writing styles accept that it is towards, while others only accept toward as being correct.

Here is another one that I never thought about until a writer from a different country questioned me about it. What exactly do you think of when someone talks about a toboggan in their story? For me a sled was something you went down hills on in the snow. Toboggans were the knit caps you wore on your head to keep it warm. But to others a toboggan is a sled. This can be a real problem for your reader if you talk about your characters stuffing their wet hair hurriedly into their toboggan before heading out the door. What? Are they wearing a sled on their head?

Dialect matters not only in getting the flavor right for your character's voice, it also matters when you the writer are using it to describe something. When you ask someone for the vanilla while baking, how you pronounce the word doesn't make that much of a difference, even though my husband insists that it is van-ill-ah and not van-ell-ah. Poe-tae-toe or pah-taw-toe you might be thinking. On the page these things stick out, especially if you are trying to help your reader visualize something. For some people a character pushing a buggy through the store to get groceries is a no-brainer. For others they might wonder when the main character got a hold, or maybe its ahold, of that baby, and why they're pushing them through the store piling groceries in the buggy with it?  Or someone might get pulled out of the story because they wonder what the heck you mean when you have your character grab their pocketbook or put on their housecoat. Huh???

2 comments:

  1. I think this is especially true for children's writers. I remember talking to kids and using a word and they are like, WHAT IS THAT? Great post, Ann, and now it looks like I need to worry about one more thing when I'm writing. . .:)

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    1. Thanks, Margo. You're right, this can be especially challenging for children's writers since they're dealing with an audience with an even more limited vocabulary or point of reference on dialect and vernacular. Of course the one positive of kids is that they enjoy learning new things and are more open to mastering new things in general. So if you give them a new turn of phrase to use, especially if it is one that is regional to their particular area, they will embrace it and make it their own. :) You just have to be very careful how you do this.

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