Lisping Dialogue

I used to read books about writing — dozens of them.  Several mentioned that mispelled words and apostrophes are no longer in style to show speech defects or accents — such dialogue is difficult to read.  To denote dialect, one needs to show speech patterns from the specific area, such as “It’s not far, just down the road a piece.” Tells you a bit about the character, and it’s easy to read. Another suggestion was to use the misspellings and apostrophe’s to set the character’s accent in the reader’s mind, then switch to normal spellings.  I heeded this particular bit of advice in my upcoming novel, Daughter Am I. To get the full meaning of the excerpt, you need to know that the Scourge and Butcher Boy once worked for the Outfit, aka the Mob. 

“Who ith it, my love?” A rotund little old man wearing plaid bermuda shorts and a pink polo shirt appeared at the door beside the woman.

“Hello, Wallace,” Happy said.

Mary bit back a giggle. This was the Scourge? This gnome of a man with twinkling eyes and a lisp?

Wallace peered through the screen at Happy. “Do I know you?”

“Don’t you remember? We used to work for the same outfit.”

The woman’s face lit up. “Oh, how nice. Won’t you come in?”

She made a move to open the door, but Wallace put out a hand to stop her.

“That won’t be necessary. These folks were just leaving.”

“Hey!” Happy protested. “What’s the big deal? All we want is some information about Butcher Boy.”

“The supermarket in town has a nice butcher,” the old woman said, “but you can’t really call him a boy. He has to be at least forty.”

Wallace patted the woman’s arm. “Let me handle this, sweetie.” He opened the door, slipped through, and closed it behind him. Motioning for Mary and her gang to follow, he headed for the road.

“This your bus?” he asked.

A couple of editors mentioned that I was inconsistent, that I should have carried the lisp throughout the scene.  It was only two pages, but still, that’s a lot of th’s.

“That won’t be nethethary. Thethe fokth were jutht leaving.”

“…Thweetie.”

 “Thith your buth?”

So, when you read Daughter Am I (you are going to read when it’s released, right?) and notice the inconsistency, just remember how kind I was being to your eyes.

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4 Responses to “Lisping Dialogue”

  1. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Definitely kind to the eyes. I read the lisp without falling over it, which is kind of how listening works too – you compensate with your ears so why not with your eyes.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Exactly, the essence of storytelling is to tell the story in such a way that the reader sees beyond the words. If you spend too much time trying to decipher the accents, you get no flavor of the character, which negates the purpose of the accent.

  2. joylene Says:

    It takes a real talent to pull off an accent. You were right not to continue. You risked losing your reader. I read a mystery awhile back with a Frenchman from Paris. His accent drove me nuts. I had to skim over those parts. And it wasn’t becuz I’m from a large French family of accented dialects. I hope not, anyway. But the dialect lost its smoothness by making me pay attention so I could figure out what he was saying.

    “Cheri, you ar da lite uf mi life. Gib me a kiss, mon ami, and ten we sip uf to da cowch and make beutiful musik togever.”

    “Sheri, you arA de light ofa my lifeA. Give mia a kissA, my bibi, andA we shalla slippa to de cougha, anda maka beautiful meusic togever. Ah?”

    Yes, I will definitely read Daughter Am I.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, that would have driven me absolutely nuts! No it wouldn’t, come to think of it, because I wouldn’t have read the story. There should have been a way for the writer to give the essence of the speech without the annoying misspellings.


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