I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I’m happily writing on my next book.  This is really good news, actually.  For a while there I was having trouble settling on one project.  I actually have three that I’ve been playing with and I haven’t been able to commit to one.  I’ve found that there’s absolutely no way for me to finish a big project unless I seriously commit.  So splitting my attention three ways is not a recipe for success.

The bad news is that I’m reading less.  To be honest, when I’m on a role with the writing, I don’t like to derail myself.  Forcing myself to read when I would rather be writing feels like self-sabotage.  The book I am currently reading, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ by Fanny Flagg, has been in my bag for over a week.  It usually takes me no more than a day and a half to finish a book.  Plus, I never intended to blog that book anyway.

So what does this mean for the blog?

I have a whole stack of books that I’m just itching read.  I am going to get to them and pass my deconstruction on to you.  However, while I’m deeply into my writing, I think I’m going to blog about writing for a little while.  I hope nobody minds.

So, in the spirit of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (which, by the way, I love) I’d like to talk about creating dialect in writing.  As you may know, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES is a book steeped in southern culture split between the story of Idgie and Ruth (starting in the 1930’s) and Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode (Set in the mid 1980’s).  One of the things I noticed as I was reading this book was that Ms. Flagg manages to create a distinctive southern voice without too much folksy spelling.

This is a real talent.  I tried to create a character with a German accent and I cut the guy in revisions.  He was just too cartoonish and I didn’t know how to be more subtle.  Yet, books like FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, THE COLOR PURPLE, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, manage to infuse easy-to-read writing with a flavor of another culture.  Here are the tips I have picked up:

1. Minimize spelling out things to sound like the accent of a particular culture.  Sure, Ms. Flagg spells out a few commonly used words like “cain’t” and “Miz” but for the most part she relies on word choices and cadence to ground us in the setting.

2. Use your turns of phrase wisely.  In FRIED GREEN TOMATOES Idgie is described as being wrapped around Ruth’s finger like red around a barber’s pole.  What a wonderful image!  In MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, things are often described in terms of astrology.  It really grounds you in Asian mysticism and superstition.

3. Making reference to the culture adds in a way that all the creative spelling in the world can’t.  Southern cooking and southern traditions help to imply an accent so you don’t have to be so explicit in the writing.  Southern cooking is one commonly used reference.  MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA was like an educational course in Asian culture.

So what works for you?  Have you tried to create a character from a different culture?  Have you ever tried to work an accent into your writing?  Do you have any tips to share?  I’d love to hear from you!

Advertisements