EDITING and DIALOGUE
One of the best things I ever did while I was in the process of writing KEECHIE happened by pure chance. My 12-year-old daughter (whom I am homeschooling) was reading it chapter by chapter as I wrote it. As part of her Language Arts study, I had her "proofread" it and highlight the errors she saw, then we would discuss the things she thought was wrong.
One night, she asked me to read it to her so she could hear the way that I meant it to be heard. That was the revelation! Sentences that I had struggled over to get "just right", sounded terrible! It sounded forced, or unnatural. I would then try to say it just like I expected my character to talk, and the results were more natural, and flowed easily.
Since KEECHIE began as an experiment in southern dialect, and writing her words phonetically, I excuse myself for breaking one of the big taboos of writing. Everything I read now about writing dialogue says that you should never, never have your character continue to speak in the vernacular. Mention in the narrative that your character has a southern drawl, a lisp, or other characteristic, then use proper English words for her speech.
If I had done that with Keechie, she would have lost the quality that made her so endearing, at least to me.
Compare the following:
(Brian) “You’re sixty? You look like you’re barely a teenager! How did
you do it?”
(Keechie) “Furse, by not drankin’ pizon wada. Hyer, have somma mine,”
What if she had said, "First, by not drinking poisoned water. Here, have some of mine."
I like the first one better...
(Keechie explaining the Great Wheel of Life)
"Evathang gonna come back aroun’ ‘ventual lak. Big ol’ wheel be a’turnin’. Sometime you’s at de top, but den you gots to take yore turn at de bottom, knowin’ dat de Wheel gonna brang ya right back up on top soon ‘nuff.”
"Everything is going to come back around eventually. The Big Wheel is turning. Sometimes you are at the top, but then you have to take your turn at the bottom, knowing that the Wheel is going to bring you back the the top soon enough."
I know that the proper version is easier to read, and to understand, but it loses Keechie's childlike take on a deep philosophical concept. Some things need to be read a second time to "get it" anyway.
I like the old lady, and the way she talks. I want my readers to like her too. If Uncle Remus in The Song of the South had told the story of B'rer Rabbit and B'rer Fox in a British accent, enunciating every syllable, I think something would have been lost.
I just had a funny thought. Butterfly McQueen as Prissy in Gone With the Wind saying, "My goodness, Miss Scarlett. I don't know anything about delivering a child!"
Not nearly as memorable as, "Lawsy, Miss Scarlett. I don't know nuthin' `bout birthin' no babies!"
You may read the entire first chapter of KEECHIE on my website by clicking on http://www.freewebs.com/brew99/ Decide for yourself if writing in dialect was a mistake; or did it accomplish what I intended it to do—add to her character? I can take criticism if it helps me to become a better writer!