The Horror of Dialect

In a creative writing class I had several years ago, the teacher cautioned against writing in dialect.  The irony was that at the same time I was taking an Advanced Placement English class that assigned several books written in that particular style. Throughout high school and subsequently college I have periodically read books written in dialect, and I can see why it isn’t common place anymore.

“There Eyes Were Watching God” is often hailed as a classic, and assigned in classrooms all across the country.  I struggled to get through it, I could barely make out what the characters were saying.  I love reading, obviously since I’m a writer, but reading books written entirely or mostly in dialect is an insurmountable challenge for me.  I can figure it out, but my brain wants to fix the words which means it makes reading slow.

Authors are called to “show nor tell” in their stories, and writing in dialect is one way to accomplish that.  To me, though this shows the pitfalls of relying too heavily on showing and not implementing it wisely.  Sometimes, writing short bursts of dialogue, such as a few lines, might be a creative way to show a character’s accent.  Writing an entire book that way is clunky.  That isn’t me saying I claim to be a better writer than these classical authors, but I share this perspective to let others know that if they feel the same, they aren’t alone.  If you are like me, then dialect can be not only clunky, but distracting from the overall plot.  Thank goodness it is a product of the past.

Quick thought on cliches

I have written about avoiding clichés, and even pointing out clichés that aren’t discussed often.  Something else came to my attention recently.  Most stories have clichés, in fact I cannot think of a single book, movie, or TV show that completely avoids clichés.  Perhaps there is something out there that doesn’t utilize an overused trope in its story, but I do not believe I encountered one.

The issue is how often do clichés appear and how they are utilized.  There are common threads that bind genres together, obviously, that is what makes them genres.  Yet, when something like a magical weapon that must be found, or destroyed in order to destroy the big bad is used, we automatically think of Tolkien.  In fact, that cliché is so overused in the fantasy genre that a story guilty of using this type of plot will be accused of being a Lord of the Rings rip-off.  However, lesser-used clichés, like a character finding what he needs in the middle of the book will be less obnoxious and more forgivable.

Stories that have noticeably less clichés and strive to be their own tale, instead of a repackage of their inspiration are what authors strive for.  In the search for originality, it is easy to loop back around into the territory of cliché once again.  Us writers should always intend to avoid things that are over used, but sometimes it is inevitable.  Just like in the real world, things repeat.  It is simply important to know when and where to use them and to be careful.