Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I say drinking fountain. You say bubbler

While reading a short excerpt of fiction, I stumbled over a phrase. I had no idea what it meant. Was it a bit of teenage slang? Was it a saying spoken only in remote parts of Wisconsin? No idea. Regardless, I was confused, and a writer shouldn't confuse readers.

So where do we draw the line at using bits of dialect?

I grew up in Arizona, and moved to Rhode Island when I was twenty-two. I thought, hey, it can't be all that different. I'm still in the US...Wrong. I can still hear my roommate's guffaws when I told her I was going to Worcester (Wore-sess-ter). New Englanders say (Woo-stuh). It was merely the tip of the language barrier.

I called the main roads freeways. Here they call them highways (because they aren't free). I also called our freeways THE 202, THE 10, THE 101, but in New England it's just 95. I said hella cool, they say wicked cool. Things of this nature are a preference. If I said freeway, people would laugh, but they understood what I meant. And everyone knows a sub, a grinder and a hoagie are all the same thing. (At least I hope so)

Then there are the terms that everyone doesn't know. Do you know what a quahog is? (And it is NOT a city Family Guy fans) It is a large clam found only in this area. And I'll never forget when a woman asked me, "You gotta bubbler?" The way she spoke made it sound like an infectious disease. However, a New England translator informed me a bubbler is a drinking fountain. I am also embarrassed to admit that I thought the package store, or packie, was a place to mail packages and not purchase liquor.

In writing, you can make your characters more believable by using some regional dialect. In fact, I wouldn't write about a place without knowing some of the local lingo. If your protagonist is a girl from Arizona driving 202, I wouldn't buy it. It just doesn't sound right without THE. On the other hand, when using obscure terms like "quahog", you need to make sure the meaning is explained in context, otherwise your readers will spend the rest of the book trying to figure out what the hell one is and miss your story.

So what are some of your local terms? Please share and state your location. And if anyone is writing a book set in New England or the Southwest, let me know. I would be happy to help.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February is Now Get-Your-Foot-in-the-Door Contest Month

Contests! Contests! Contests!

Miss Snark is holding another Secret Agent contest, and the entries closed fifteen minutes after they opened. (WOW! There are a lot of aspiring writers out there.) If your entry didn't make it, you can still benefit from her contest. Her readers and the Secret Agent leave great comments.

Want to go to Backspace, but can't afford the registration fee? Colleen Lindsay is offering two scholarships to attend. Read the rules carefully. For this contest and this contest only submissions are to be mailed.

And last but certainly not least, Chuck Sambuchino is hosting a Dear Lucky Agent contest on his blog. Authors of Middle Grade and Young Adult novels can enter the first 150-200 words of their work for a chance at a manuscript critique.

Know of any other contests going on this month? Post them in the comments!