[LMB] (Chat) The 6th blog post

Lois McMaster Bujold lbujold at myinfmail.com
Sun Dec 3 05:07:24 GMT 2006

I ended up this evening, in response to a poster on the Baen Board, 
writing what amounted to a sixth blog post like the ones I did for Eos a 
few weeks back.  ( 
http://outofthiseos.typepad.com/blog/2006/10/index.html )  Might as well 
share it with y'all as well.

Dialect and dialog...  (12/2/06)


Ah, I'm so glad someone noticed, if only subliminally.  (Actually, 
subliminally is preferred; intended, even.)


All of my books so far are in a viewpoint dubbed variously tight third, 
third person personal, and other variants.  That means they are written, 
more or less and to the limits of my ability, attention, and endurance, 
in the vocabularies, dialects, and personal styles of their respective 
point-of-view characters, rather than that of some separate omniscient 


Within that frame, any given sentence may be written in one of three 
narrative distances, roughly, from that of the viewpoint voice.  Direct 
quotes -- dialog and italicized internal dialog, which are the 
character's thoughts directly reported -- will all of course be in that 
character's own words (and grammar).  Paraphrased thought -- the stream 
of observation and sensation the character is experiencing, and the 
reader along-with -- will be in something closer to standard English, 
but salted with the character's personal style and opinions.  Sometimes, 
especially during narrative transitions where the writer must hike up 
her skirts and run quickly from one fully-dramatized scene to another, 
it will be more standardized still, but preferably with some flavor of 
the POV (and their limits) lingering.


If a given book of mine is written in a single viewpoint, there is no 
way for the reader to tell where the character's style leaves off and 
the writer's begins, as it's all the same from end to end.  In multiple 
viewpoint, more variation is possible, and visible.


Each book's writing style is therefore both driven and constrained by 
the viewpoint character/s selected.  Miles's voice is post-modern, 
ironic, and educated, and he has access to basically all the vocabulary 
I do.  Cazaril is educated and exposed to if not steeped in his 
language's poetry and theology, although with a strong side-order of 
military, man's-world experience.  Ista has the education and vocabulary 
of a Chalionese court lady, broadly overlapping Caz's, upper class and 
literary.  Neither have access to modern vocabulary or world-view 
detritus -- all the psycho-technical b/a/b/b/l/e vocabulary Freud, er, 
gifted the language with, for example, is beyond their purview, nor 
should they use any metaphors stemming from modern technologies.  The 
characters' ages will also often be reflected in their language -- more 
formal for the older or more powerful ones like Aral, more breezy for 
fellows like, say, Ivan.


Ingrey is based on a different root language (in his world) than that of 
Caz or Ista, as well as having a very different personality.  His 
background is upper class for his realm, but he's not literarily 
inclined.  I tried to make his language more terse and direct to reflect 
this, while still keeping an archaic flavor.  (And, of course, the usual 
time-and-place-and-tech-level vocabulary control.)


One runs into limits as a writer, and sometimes has to just give up and 
go with the standard English that one's readers can parse, or be 
stripped of words altogether.  The world of Chalion, ferex, never had 
the medical theory of the four humours, nor much of our medieval 
astronomical or astrological (or alchemical) terminology, but I still 
use such words as choleric or sanguine or saturnine for that world; they 
have the proper archaic flavor.


I am at best a toddler-writer in these matters.  In Tom Shippey's book 
_J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century_ he has a wonderful analysis of 
the Council of Elrond identifying something like 23 different nested 
dialog styles, each with distinct vocabularies and grammar.  But that's 


All this as preamble to _The Sharing Knife_.  Because TSK is written in 
dialect; several of 'em, in fact.  My native dialect, to be precise -- 
or what would be if my parents hadn't been from Pittsburgh via 
California and a lot of formal speech training -- that of rural Ohio 
(and points nearby).


Fawn's voice is rural central Ohio pretty directly, as are the rest of 
the crew from West Blue.  The Lakewalkers speak in a slightly more 
formal and educated variant of the same thing, as befits their more 
powerful status, although Dag's unique tag "leastways" is clearly 
something he picked up in Luthlia.  We also dip into the 
Appalachian-tinged syntax of southern Ohio, at the Horseford's farm.  
Later, in the third book, I have a major character who speaks that 
dialect exclusively.  The narrative remains in dialect as well, though 
with the usual shift to something more standard during transitions.


Vocabulary control was tight.  Both Fawn and Dag are, as we see, 
literate (tho' Fawn only barely), but neither have a speck of the 
literary about them, except what they've picked up from listening to 
song and ballad.  (And traditional song and ballad also tend to strong, 
simple language, because the ear can't parse complex terms at speed.)  
Neither Fawn nor Dag are readers, because there's almost nothing to read 
in their world.  (Save for what's in Lakewalker lore tents and patrol 
reports or village clerk's records, all of which tend to the 
utilitarian.)  So neither should have highly polished, polysyllabic, 
literary vocabularies.


Both should have very extensive technical vocabularies, however, dealing 
with the work of their daily lives.  Fawn could leave the average reader 
in the dust on weaving tech or the diseases of sheep, I have no doubt, 
or Dag on the arcana of trapping or the treatment of skins and hides.  
But these don't much come up in the course of the book, nor have I any 
special wish to bombard the reader with esoteric research unless it's 
directly pertinent to the critical parts of the plot (as, ferex, the 
spinning in Ch. 17).


Invective is a little weak.  Naturally I had to throw out all 
religion-based invective from our world.  The Lakewalkers have only a 
few unique words and phrases.  The farmers ought to have all the earthy 
Anglo-Saxon monosyllables, but I've left most of them out in order to 
maintain a certain tone in the midst of some very mature subject 
matter.  (Too, both my POV characters are rather clean-mouthed by nature.)


I probably used my on-line thesaurus more with this book than with any 
other I've ever written -- to find simpler but equally precise synonyms 
for the polysyllables that tend to fall most trippingly from my typing 
fingers.  I suspect the practice of paying such close attention to my 
language was good for me as a writer; I know it was fun.


Ta, L.

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