Owts, Nowts and Summats: Writing Authentic Dialogue

Union-StreetOkay, I don’t talk posh. I’m not posh. It doesn’t matter. I’ll never talk like Princess Ann, but I can write using the Queen’s English when I need to. My dissertation at Uni wasn’t peppered with owts, nowts and summats.

The setting for my novel-in-progress is about working class teenage life in a northern town. It’s about kids who are growing up on a rough council estate, as I did. Without wanting to stereotype, I think it’s fair to say that the speech of people from a regional working-class background is often far from ‘Received Pronunciation’. How can I use dialogue in my novel to reflect this, without distracting readers from the story by drawing attention to the speech?

Some writers use a lot of dialect and mispronunciations. Their diction might be more true-to-life, but I find it irritating. As a reader, I don’t like ploughing my way through a lot of this kind of dialogue. Others might feel it works for them.

In my writing, I try to signal the way my characters talk by occasionally using dialect but not over-using it. Of course, what is ‘over-use’ is a matter of opinion. For me, it’s a difficult balancing act between veracity and easily readable dialogue. I don’t know if I’ve got it quite right.

Pat Barker in her first novel, ‘Union Street’, a gritty realistic novel of the dark side of working class life, uses dialogue which I think is just brilliant. I’m going to re-read this novel and see what I can learn from it about how to write effective dialogue.


5 thoughts on “Owts, Nowts and Summats: Writing Authentic Dialogue

  1. Hi Stephanie, pleased to see you popping up on my blog. I’m not sure about Yorkshire people making them rhyme with ‘goat’. For me, ‘goat’ would rhyme with ‘oat’ and ‘note’ but not with ‘owt’ and ‘nowt’. I can’t think of a word that rhymes with my owt and nowt.

  2. Here you are Jean, I completely lost track of where your blog had gone somewhere along the way! Too much dialect can definitely be offputting. I tried to read a novel recently that was littered with it, and couldn’t get past the third chapter though the story was very good. I listened to the audio book version instead – much better.

  3. Hi Karen, I’m so pleased to see you here. I’ve missed you.
    Yes, I’m put off reading novels if I have to struggle to understand dialogue that’s littered with too much dialect.

  4. Pingback: Double Encounter | An' de walls came tumblin' down

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