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New Release! Double Negative by C. Lee McKenzie

To celebrate the release of her newest YA book, Double Negative, the kind and talented C. Lee McKenzie is here with a quick lesson on characterization through dialect. 

Congratulations, Lee! Take it away! 
Literary Dialect: Quick Characterization

Literary Dialect is one quick way authors can characterize the people in their stories. But what is dialect in general? Most simply its a way of speaking that marks regional, cultural, ethnic and social differences. So dialect and literary dialect involves:
Accents.  Word choice.  Grammar.
And there are different ways to write literary dialect

1)   Use standard spelling and describe the characters speech.

            “So what do you say?” Dads question comes out in slow Texan.
            Double Negative, C. Lee McKenzie

2) Use regional word choice.
             “Ive got to ret up the house,” Marge said.
              He scratched his head and looked around. “What are you doing to the house?”

3) Omit words to mark dialect.
            (Two characters: native speaker and Vietnamese immigrant.)

            Good morning, Tuan.” I smile and smooth my hair in his mirror like Im in no hurry to go anyplace. His eyes dont blink. Hes kind of snaky that way.
            Not good,” he grumbles.
            He jerks his door closed behind him and stomps outside. I follow and watch while he swipes gray paint over the red-and-black stucco art.
            Las Vegas!” He spits into the gutter. “Hoodlums do this.  All time.
            Sliding on the Edge, C. Lee McKenzie

4) Use non-standard grammar.
            “There you go again, thinking Im stupid. I heard all that scratching your pencil did and I seen those pages full of writing.”
            The Princess of Las Pulgas, C. Lee McKenzie

5) Use respelling
            Gonna, hafta, readin, writin

I’ve saved Respelling until last because there’s some controversy over its use.

First, Respelling one groups language may reveal more about authors and their assumptions and biases than about the characters theyre creating.

Second, I find too much of it distracting, so I use it very little.

My goal in using any literary dialect is to create language that young readers can identify with to help them connect with characters and get them involved in reading. I think of respelling as a way to capture performance on the page.

Hutchison Mc Queen is a sixteen-year-old smart kid who screws up regularly. Hes a member of Larkston Highs loser clique, the boy whos on his way to nowhereunless juvenile hall counts as a destination. He squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. When that doesnt work, he goes to Fat Nyla, the one some mean girls are out to get and a person whos in on his secrethe can barely read. And then Maggie happens. For twenty-five years shes saved boys from their own bad choices. But she may not have time to save Hutch. Alzheimers disease is steadily stealing her keen mind.

Title: Double Negative
Author: C. Lee McKenzie

Genre: Contemporary/Realistic Fiction
Category: Young Adult
Available: Today! from Evernight Teen

Buy the book here!  

C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. 

She takes on modern issues that today's teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. Her short story, Premeditated Cat, appears in the anthology, The First Time, and her Into the Sea of Dew is part of a collection, Two and Twenty Dark Tales. In 2012, her first middle grade novel, Alligators Overhead, came out.

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  1. Dialect is something you have to use correctly or it's just a distraction.

  2. I use repelling sparingly as well. But sometimes it just fits the dialogue, so I grit my teeth and suck it up.

    Congrats, Lee!

  3. @Alex I agree. You have to craft the dialogue so it fits the character and doesn't stand out.
    @M.J. I use, too. Sometimes a gotta is in order,

    @Natasha Thanks so much.

  4. Hi Melissa! Thanks again for hosting me today. I loved being able to write this piece about literary dialect.

  5. Congrats Lee. I like all the different ways one can show dialect. It's a tough one to pull off because it can become tiring for the reader.

  6. Great tips! I think I use gonna and gotta a lot for a particular character but he's a teenager so I think I can get away with it? I always try to make sure my adults talk like adults.

  7. Great advice! I have a couple of characters that use dialect, and even wrote a novella length story in one of their POVs. I'm not sure how well it'll go over. :)

    Grats on the release!

  8. Hi, Melissa,


    Thanks for your tips on Literary dialect.... They're great!

  9. In Bella's Point, I didn't use as many contractions for her dialect hoping to slow down her speech in a Southern drawl. Hopefully it worked.


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