Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Welcome, First Wednesday in Fall!

Before we get into the post, the Admins here at IWSG want to recognize two amazing and hard-working Admins for their contribution to the group. Heather Gardner and Tyrean Martinson are unfortunately stepping down from their spots. While we hate to see them go, we understand how there is only just so much time and these are two very busy authors. We will miss them so much, but wish them the best of luck.

  Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

October 6 question - In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are

 Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard!

I like this question, and I'm answering it on my own blog as well as here, but I'm taking a slightly different slant in the two post. 


When I write a story, I often tackle hard topics, ones that are controversial and not necessarily pleasant. However, that doesn't mean that I resort to language bombs, x-rated or violent scenes to tell the story. Shakespeare and Hitchcock had the right idea, take the violence off the center stage, allow the imagination to fill in those spaces because in all likelihood, those imaginations will conjure up more vivid images than anything you "show" explicitly.  

Another of my "avoid if at all possible" language techniques is what is called re-spelling. In other words, writing dialogue so that it's spelled to imitate the way a character talks. 

Character or Caricature?
Image credit: Hitchster on Wunderstock (license)

There are a couple of reasons I don't like re-spelling.  First, I find the use of this technique demeaning when it's used to characterize a social class or ethnic group. Perhaps the most extreme example is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The author set out with the intention of exposing the evils of slavery, and that was admirable. However, her heavy use of re-spelling (and this is my modern-day opinion only) seems to have turned many of her characters into caricatures.  Here's one example:

"Mose done, Mas'r George," said Aunt Chloe, lifting the lid and peeping in, —"browning beautiful—a real lovely brown. Ah! let me alone for dat. Missis let Sally try to make some cake, t' other day, jes to larn her, she said. 'O, go way, Missis,' said I; 'it really hurts my feelin's, now, to see good vittles spilt dat ar way! Cake ris all to one side—no shape at all; no more than my shoe; go way!"

I recently finished a book set in Portugal and the author did a masterful job of capturing the second-language sound of a Portuguese speaker using English. She didn't re-spell, she changed the syntax and achieved the effect.

"What kind of Port you want? You are in the land of great Port. We invent it, you know." 


"Ah, Senhor Costa at your service. I am pleased to advise such pretty lady...You are inglesa? English?"

Another reason for my bias against re-spelling is that it makes it darned hard to read. I hate to pick on Mrs. Stowe, but she's the most extreme example, and it's easy to demonstrate with her since Uncle Tom's Cabin is so dense with re-spelling.

"La bless you, Mas'r George!" said Aunt Chloe, with earnestness, catching his arm, "you wouldn't be for cuttin' it wid dat ar great heavy knife! Smash all down—spile all de pretty rise of it. Here, I've got a thin old knife, I keeps sharp a purpose. Dar now, see! comes apart light as a feather! Now eat away— you won't get anything to beat dat ar." 

I'm not completely re-spelling free in my writing. I jumped into the WEP with a short story called The Lynching and wanted a "back-woods" twang for my characters, so I did use gotta and should'a and maybe a couple of 'em for them. The rest of that twang I tried to get with vocabulary and idiom that I thought characterized these people.

“Gotta take a leak Bart. You hang onto the rope.

Duchane’s bladder’s about the size of a grape. I take the rope, but that means if the bugger comes while Duchane’s playing bear in the woods, I’ll have to change up the plan. I should’a called on Newt for this job. He might be seventy, but he’d pee his pants before he’d sabotage a planned attack like this one.

I'm looking forward to reading other answers to this question. Hope you'll join me to see what other members have to say.

For the next IWSG Anthology, Sweet Romance, we had a lot of submissions! Stay tuned for the publication date!



The next #IWSGPit Twitter pitch event is January 26, 2022!

Every year there are some great success stories. You could be one of them.

See the #IWSGPit page for full details.

Notebooks, Pens, Keychains, and Totes are some of what's available.
Your purchase helps to keep IWSG up and supporting our members.


How did you answer this month's question? Are you excited about the next IWSG anthology and to read the stories? How about getting that Twitter Pitch ready--are you going to jump in?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Re-spelling is just so hard to read!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I agree. Although my current ms is a political thriller and shows the ugliness of war. You're right. The subject matter should fit the story but not be used for shock value.

Jemi Fraser said...

I tend to read quickly and re-spelling makes for very slow reading. It's been a while but I think the Redwall series has one creature (mole???) whose speech includes a lot of re-spelling - very difficult to read quickly!

cleemckenzie said...

Yes, speed is definitely a factor. I'm put off by that, but more by the way it demeans.

talklady said...

I didn't even know 're-spelling' was a term? Who needs a term for noxious story device?

I adored much about Mark Twain stories, but not his penchant for 'on the nose' dialogue from a 'backward' character -

Leigh Caron said...

Great point about retelling, but I do like to hear and imagine a character as they'er talking...but too much, is too much.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee - I'd struggle to read a novel using re-spelling ... but I'm sure it'd be different for each country - I read an Indian one recently that I enjoyed, but I wonder how many people from another country's would enjoy it. Interesting thought ... another one would be South African English ... Again I read one recently that was excellent ... but I did wonder if others would enjoy. Cheers Hilary

cleemckenzie said...

It just seems there are so many other ways to nail regional or class speech that isn't so hard to read or so stigmatizing. This is, of course, as I've said, my opinion.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi Lee,

I do agree to a point about respelling... but, at that time, people may not have been aware of how certain people spoke. Using this technique tells the reader how people sounded. Yes, I agree, by today's standards it is demeaning, but I honestly don't believe those writers intended it to be that way. I have done some respelling in my writing, and I generally use a bit of it just for flavor, then curb it down as the story progresses. But, I do like your idea of rephrasing words to make the dialogue sound more authentic.

Will the chosen anthology shortlist submissions be posted? Or, will it be an announcement once the final stories are chosen, This is my first year submitting, so I am not sure how it works.

H. R. Sinclair said...

I agree! Oh yes, rather than re-spelling, it's the syntax that can tell everything -- and people can still read it.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, I agree that re-spellings are hard to read. Awesome that you got so many submissions for the anthology. And thanks to Tyrean and Heather for their hard work!

Olga Godim said...

I hate it when writers use phonetic spelling to highlight an accent. Those dialogs are so hard to read. And frankly, I don't understand the reason for it. Everything that should be said, could be said using standard English. It is such a rich language, there is no need to mangle it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I couldn't even read that.

Carrie-Anne said...

I'm ashamed to admit I once used to phonetically render accents myself. It's so hard to read, and very distracting! In my opinion, it's more effective and to the point to just introduce a character by saying s/he has a very strong whatever accent, or showing a heavy accent the first time s/he speaks English. Then the reader can keep it in mind for the rest of the book and mentally hear that character speaking in such and such a way.

The phonetic slave vernacular was a big reason Uncle Tom's Cabin was a DNF! I could barely read it or figure it out.

Sadira Stone said...

I agree! It's possible to give the flavor of an accent or dialect without laying the respelling on with a trowel. Good post! Happy writing in October.

Diane Burton said...

Re-spelling is darn hard to read. Sometimes, it's too much. Giving the flavor of the accent is better.

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kjmckendry said...

Great answer to the question! You're right re-spelling makes it hard to read!

Helen said...

Although you may have a problem with Beecher-Stowe, and Mark Twain also did local dialect, both of them 'unstuffied' (my word sorry) the style of writing of their day, turning it in the direction of our current style, loosening it and making it reflect the common people instead of the East Coast Elites. So for that we should thank them. If the dialect is hard to read today, that is merely that the language has morphed over time as it does. I don't find reading Shakespeare that easy either. :)

Rajani Rehana said...

Super blog

Dihiwi said...

I enjoyed your blog and I also agree - especially about respelling. Thanks for all that you do to keep the IWSG going. Happy October!