Might Could

16 Mar
Might Could

The comment this week (thanks salsanpeeps) brings up the central point of this post:

Whenever I was younger, I wrote a story about the Civil War from the perspective of one of the Rebel Soldiers that used a southern accent.  My father kept on harping on the importance of writing about something I knew.

Other than “show don’t tell,” probably the most common piece of advice I’ve found on writing is “write what you know.” A close third would be “write the story that wants to be told.” So what do you do when “write what you know” and “write the story that wants to be told” are in conflict?

It may actually not be such a bad thing. It is sometimes difficult for me as a reader to get in to a story that is written completely in a certain dialect or accent. GONE WITH THE WIND uses accents well, and only for the slave characters, but navigating the unconventional spellings always slows me down a bit. Plus, writing with an accent can reveal the author’s attitude or stereotypes of the dialect he or she is trying to represent, even if those attitudes aren’t always positive.

I think there is another way to represent a dialect without changing all of the spellings. Most regional dialects have phrases that don’t require changing conventional spellings. Here in “the burgh,” we often drop the “to be.” We say things like “needs vacuumed” or “needs raked.” I noticed that in North Carolina, common phrases are “bless her heart” and “might could.” Just adding these phrases might could clue the reader in to the accent without making it difficult to read.

The phrases have to be chosen carefully, but chances are, if you’re writing, you’re already choosing each word carefully anyway. You could always give it a try and revise it later.

Photo credit: wikipedia

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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Character


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