Sunday, 29 March 2009

Writing dialogue is

difficult for an author. Jane, of "How Publishing Really Works", raised the issue in her blog this morning. I added a comment that, apart from the nature of spoken language itself, there are also cultural and generational differences that make it difficult.
Oddly this came up yesterday. I met the Knitting Gang for a little R and R and we discussed everything as usual. I think we are unusual for a group of women. We don't bitch. It's an unspoken rule but it is there nevertheless. The group includes an Italian, two English women, a Kiwi and others. We are a mixed bunch. We did have two Americans. One has had to return to the US and we miss her greatly. She is married to a Frenchman, has lived in Russia and France and understands that cultural differences exist even better than the rest of us. The other American no longer comes. Her personality simply does not allow for cultural differences. She clashed because she misinterpreted words.
Of course there are words that cannot be interpreted. There are words that do not have parallels in other languages. We all have an unique understanding of language as well. My idea of 'chair' is not your idea of 'chair' - even when we both experience sitting on the same chair. My idea of 'chair' has changed from yesterday and my experience of yet another new chair.
Perhaps this is why another American friend no longer tries to read current British crime fiction. It is clear that she does not understand the dialogue, not just the surface dialogue but the sub-dialogue. She cannot understand the underlying meaning of the words.

3 comments:

Redleg said...

You know what I find difficult about dialogue? If you leave it all without any "said John" and "replied Gina" it starts to run together and you don't know who's talking. But if you interrupt every sentence with a "said" you break the natural rhythm of the conversation.

Katy said...

I followed you here from the pitch party (HPRW), so dropping by to say hello :-)

Fascinating topic and I couldn't agree more. I think we sometimes (mistakenly) believe that because we speak the *same* language that there are no cultural differences. Your experiences in your group sound extremely interesting, great post, thank you. Katy

JJ Beattie said...

Thanks for visiting mine. This is a fascinating subject, and one I come across a lot because I'm living in Thailand.

Back in the UK I had a Dutch friend while I was at art college. She was always telling me stories of Brits she and her husband had offended because of the way that the Dutch language sounded when translated into English. She would say 'You must do this' when she might have meant 'Can you do this?' I was always astonished how people didn't give them any space for misinterpretation. They were speaking a foreign language!