Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published December 12, 2010. Enjoy!
By Carol Ottley-Mitchell
Chee Chee isn't going to Jamaica with me, so I'm pretty sure that nothing will happen."
This is an excerpt from my second book, Pirates at Port Royal. The truth is that such a sentence probably would not come out of the mouth of the average child in St. Kitts. It is more likely to look like:
"Chee Chee not going Jamaica wid me, so nuttin' gorn happ'n."
Writing direct speech for my West Indian characters has been an ongoing struggle for me. On the one hand, I do want the books to be an authentic representation of life in the Caribbean. I want my characters to seem realistic and familiar to my West Indian readers. On the other hand, I recall reading books set in Scotland and struggling to understand the dialect speech and wondering to myself how these words actually sound. I have also read books written entirely in Jamaican creole which I have to read out loud to catch the gist of the text. I don’t want to alienate my non-West Indian readers by making them work too hard to figure out what my characters are saying.
There is a little more to the dilemma in my case. While I appreciate the use of dialect, I have spoken out about the way that it is proliferating our English and questioned whether or not it is the right way to go. Many people have responded positively to my suggestions and it does seem a bit hypocritical if I turn around and write a book in dialect!
Have you had that struggle between realistic and understandable speech?