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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Dialect

Writing Tip — The Power of Voice

human-722702_1280The McBroom Saga was the first instance I can remember of a book having a distinct voice. And because it was a voice very similar to my grandparents’ speech, I was attracted to it and have been trying to write in dialect ever since.

As a kid, I desperately wanted to write a story in the same style as Mr. Fleischma. I remember telling a story, to a space heater, one winter day in the dialect of my West Virginian relatives.

In high school and college, I was attracted to other stories written in dialect like Damon Runyon’s Broadway short stories and some stories by Rudyard Kipling told in one of the many dialects of the British Isles.

When I began writing regularly in college, I always tried to write dialogue in dialect and use it for my current book set in West Virginia. So my wish to write like Mr. Fleischman came true.

Side Note

This is just a personal complaint of mine, but picture books as long as the McBroom Saga are rarely published any more. Compared to the brevity of style used in contemporary picture books, one McBroom book is the kids’ equivalent of War and Peace.

h4495This is such a shame. When my kids were younger, they wanted a strong, complicated narrative with interesting illustrations. Some picture books now are so short they hardly seem worth reading.

To find the longer picture books my kids wanted, I had to hunt for books that were thirty, forty, or fifty years old. I asked our local librarian for recommendations. I think there is still an audience for this kind of picture book, kids who are just starting chapter books but still like illustrations.

Okay. Complaint over.

 

West Virginia Wednesdays

img_20160817_0004Stil Talkin’ Like a Mountaineer

Here are a few more quirks of the West Virginia dialect which I learned from relatives.  Like I said last week, these may be found in more areas than just West Virginia.  And not all West Virginians may talk this way.  West Virginia is a crossroads.  Not North, or South, or West, or East, the state contains a little bit of all those regions.

“push” and “bush” are pronounced “poosh” and “boosh”

“dish” and “fish” are pronounced deesh” and feesh”

“wash” and “gosh” are pronounced “warsh” and “garsh”

Words ending in “ow”, making an long “o” sound, are pronounced “er”.  For example, “follow”“hollow”, and “yellow” are pronounced “feller”“holler”, and “yeller”.

I find myself using “be” and a verb ending in “ing” when a present tense verb works just as well.  For example, if my kids are doing something they shouldn’t, I don’t say, “You can’t do that!”  I say, “You can’t be doing that!”

When writing my novel, I had a hard time choosing between whether my characters would use “y’all” or y’uns” for the plural form of “you”.  My grandparents used “y’uns” and they were from the northern part of the state.  I have friends who lived around Charleston and they use “y’all”.  My setting is north and east of Charleston but south of my grandparents’s hometown.

In the end, I decided to use “y’uns”.  When anyone reads “y’all”, the reader knows the setting is the American South.  Since West Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains are different from the South, I thought “y’uns” would signal that difference and my characters’ rural background.

 

 

 

West Virginia Wednesdays

rafting-2071983_1280Talkin’ Like a Mountaineer

I wrote in my tip about what I learned from Damon Runyon that a writer should only sprinkle in slang or words from a dialect.  Since my book is set in West Virginia, I use words my West Virginian relatives speak.  I use some of them myself, even though I grew up across the river in Ohio.

Just a note: If you are not from around Appalachia, you should understand there’s a difference between a Southern accent and an Appalachian one.  In the book The Story of English, some experts consider the Appalachian accent a cross between Midwestern and Southern. The further south you travel in the Appalachian mountains, the more southern the accent becomes.

The words I list below may not be unique to West Virginia but they are not common in the Midwest where I grew up.

No account — no good, disreputable, unreliable.  The farmer down the road was no account – he let his farm fall down to rack and ruin.

Lopper-jawed (I am guessing on the spelling) — to hang crookedly.  The door to the abandoned house hung lopper-jawed.

heap sight (I am guessing on the spelling of “sight”) — a great amount.  We had a heap sight more tomatoes this summer than last summer.

red up — clean up.  We red up the house before our company comes.country-lane-2089645_1280

fer piece — a long distance.  My nearest neighbor is a fer piece down this road.

pert near — almost or close.  “Pert” is short for “pretty”.  When that dog lunged for me, it pert near scared the pants off me.

I will have some more Appalachian words and patterns of speech next Wednesday.

 

 

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