My Writing Process 11: Writing as we Speak

A lot of authors like to pepper their work with what we like to call ‘local color’… That is, phrases and idioms that are specific to a certain region in order to increase it’s level of realism.

Being from Newfoundland, I see a lot of this. It seems like every local book published by Breakwater or Downhome are peppered with “Newfie Speak” (a term I despise, by the way). Even my good friend Kenneth Tam over at Iceberg Publishing does this. His His Majesty’s New World series about Newfoundlanders in an alternate timeline is chalk full of Newfie-isms. And he does it quite well. Most do. And I’m sure that every other region of the world has their own brand of local color that their own local authors use. Novels like The Color Purple are famous for it. And sometimes again, local color is used by people not native to the area (like me writing about Americans) to create an illusion of authenticity.

Here’s the rub, and it’s where you have to be careful: sometimes it can be offensive. Now while I strongly believe that you should never pussy-foot around when it comes to writing, there’s also a point where you’re just being insensitive. Personally, I opt to simply say that a character has a certain accent, rather than attempt to portray in phonetically. But that’s your call.

There’s also the possibility that nobody (not even people from the demographic presented) will be able to understand it. For instance, in outport communities here in Newfoundland people tend to remove the letter H from where it should be and install it other places. So rather than: “That house is orange,” it would sound like: “That ‘ouse is horange.” But I wouldn’t write it like that. I might describe it, but writing it would be confusing and possibly offensive. On the other hand, many Newfoundlanders say “B’y” at the end of their sentences. That I would keep, just because there’s not really a non-phonetic alternative and it’s an authentic part of our speech.

So it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s important, like all these writing processes, to take it with a grain of salt and to decide for yourselves. Let me know what you think… And if anyone has any local speech patterns they want to post, do so. Let’s have fun with it. 😉

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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