Sunday, March 3, 2013

Writing the Way You Want to Write, Is It Always A Good Idea?

When I set about writing my first published novel, CUT HAND, I spent a great deal of time and effort researching the Colonial and Early American English in which much of the book is written. I soon came upon a problem described by every professor of creative writing to every aspiring author who ever took up the pen…be it real (from quill to fountain to ballpoint) or figurative (typewriter to computer): “Don’t write in dialect lest you alienate your readers.” In other words, don’t make them work so hard they give up and put the book down.

So while I set about using words that sound strange to our modern ears, I explained many of them in contemporary terms or (better yet) put them into a context where they could be understood. For example, using the barm on the brew to indicate a problem. The “barm” was a skim on whatever was being brewed that had to be removed. To complicate matters, there are a number of Native American words or terms between those pages, as well.
I heard from many readers (remember, I encourage reader contact) who expressed admiration for the way I created my word-story. Some of them actually went to the trouble of looking up certain words to make sure they understood them properly. That, my friends, is high praise indeed in this world of short attentions spans and impatient personalities, of bits and bytes, of thirty second messages and txtng. For this I make no apologies and have no regrets.

There is one thing, however, I would change if I were to write the book afresh. For 25 pages, Splitlip Rumquiller and Wild Red Greavy romp through the book speaking in full dialect…more Mountain American than English. And that stopped one local author whom I like and respect cold. She didn’t finish even those pages. It was more a matter of principle for her than not being willing to work at it. She preaches “making it readable” and her several successful novels argue powerfully for her approach.

Why did I do it? Stubborness? Individuality? A case of serious Mark Twain envy? I wish I could give you a reasonable answer. Perhaps I thought I could hold a reader for just those mere 25 pages while indulging my ego. The long and the short of it is I wouldn’t do it again…not that heavily. You novice authors out there pay attention and learn from my mistake.

I am comfortable with writing in an earlier version of English, but less so with heavy dialect. Sometimes something works…and sometimes it doesn’t.

Note: I am still not a devoted blogger, but I will attempt to post around the first of every month.

Comments are welcome, not only on the posts, but also on anything about my writing the reader wishes to discuss.

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