Thoughts on Dialogue and Dialect

Character dialogue and dialect has a tremendous effect on the mental imagery of your writing projects. Sometimes the way and manner in which a character speaks is as important in the presentation as what he says. That is easily seen in some of the Blast from the Past selections on this site. As in any other case where a character’s “voice” is important, consistency is vital. Listening to an impressionist who loses contact with his impression is annoying. The same is true when reading a character. Review the dialogue frequently and make sure that your character’s speech pattern remains solid. If the character loses credibility, so do you.

Below are two examples from a book I wrote back in the early 1980’s. It takes place in the northern plains of America shortly after the Lewis and Clark expedition. It is not the old west. It is the new frontier, and not many white men were in that area at the time. The first character speaks in relatively intense dialect. The second delivers dialogue that is, ostensibly, the English version of his native tongue.

“Injuns is like wolves, Skinner. They move across the land, takin’ whut they need, not messin’ wif much else. They run in packs, boy, changin’ whar they live wif the seasons an’ the game. They is obligated to the Great Spirit an’ thar bellies, son, an’ thet’s the straight of it. By thar own way a thinkin’ they ain’t mean, ner cruel, ner superstitious neither. They jest do whut they gotter do to keep a-goin’. Doan judge ‘em by a white man’s standards. They is a whole ‘nother kinda critter. A white man is too far from the earth ta compare to a Injun, lessen he’s a tame Redskin thet’s had all the wild knocked outa him, an’ them poor devils is less then dawgs. Yew cain’t never be no heathern, boy, no matter how hard ya try. Yew warn’t born to it. The best yew kin do is come to unnerstan’ thet even if ya live smack in the middle of ‘em fer a hunnert years, yer still gonner be white, an’ ya still ain’t gonner unnerstan’ everthang they do. Injuns ain’t got no long-term plan. They ain’t locked inta nothin’. The only thang important to a Injun is taday an’ mebbe tamarra. When ya think about thet, son, it ain’t no terrible way ta live.”

-Peter Alden, Mountain man

“Whitemen, Wah! While it is true that even they are creatures of the Spirit-Which-Lives-In-All-Things, they do not know it. They burden themselves with things, they make too much of too little, they seek to own, and they are deaf to the voice of the Turtle. Because they are not human, they are unaware of the order of life. Like a small child with a sharp knife, they marvel at their power, but see not the danger they create. It is true that there must be a reason for them to exist or the Spirit would not have it so, but I cannot comprehend it. It is admirable that one of them should seek to become a person. It is unusual that any of them would have the heart to attempt such a thing.”

-Four-Lodges-Are-His, Sioux warrior

Excerpts from


by David R Lewis

Copyright 1982

There you have two divergently different characters, each more efficiently described by the nature of their speech and given extra depth as individuals. Both made more memorable by their dialogue or dialect.

At least, that’s how it seems to me.



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