As promised, my first special guest is historical novelist, Cathie Dunn. A resident of Edinburgh, Cathie has some significant experience with Scottish dialect. Here's her take on its appearance in a novel's dialog.
"Aye." "Nae bother." "Ah dinna ken."
Readers of Scottish historical and romance novels can't avoid coming across Scottish accents. Whether, as a reader, you like them or not, accents can enrich a story, or spoil it.
A well-balanced addition of an accent gives readers the experience of 'hearing' the characters, their speech a sign of heritage, upbringing and culture. Sometimes, different accents can be used to identify regional differences. This is more in line with the reality of the day, I believe, but quite tricky to achieve. Modern Scots still have different dialects, east from west and north from south. What's 'ye' for some, is 'yoo' for others, and even the odd 'ya' appears in places.
How does a non-Scottish writer choose the right accent for a character? That’s the tricky bit.
In Highland Arms, my Jacobite Scottish romance, the main Highlander, Rory, has a Scottish burr, just a hint. Minor characters - of a different class and age – have different accents. I chose not to overdo it, so my Lowland, posh Edinburgh-raised heroine Catriona doesn’t have a Scottish accent at all. This indicated again a different education, living area and class.
As a (non-Scottish) resident in Scotland I have an issue with the over-use of dialects in fiction. Hints of a lilt are fine, but the continuous use of dialects - especially when characters from different areas use the same accent - keep throwing me out of a story. However riveting the plot, I find it hard to continue reading.
Language has changed over the centuries. Intonation and style are different. Gaelic has become the language of a minority; Doric even more so, now confined to a small north-eastern corner. Scots has changed. Cities have their own, distinctive dialects. Shifts in population from the countryside to cities have merged dialects. You visit various corners of Scotland and get different lilts. It's fascinating. And quite complicated.
How does a writer of historical fiction get the right balance? If your readers like it, you must be on the right track. Correct? Maybe. Guess it depends where your readers live. And if they’re familiar with the rich range of the country’s dialects.
Maybe I've become too familiar with the regional accents to accept a novel where the dialect is totally unrealistic. Yes, it’s fiction, but I still prefer a well-placed hint at an accent rather than full blown wrong terminology.
So, how much Scottish dialect should a novel contain? Should every character speak with an accent? Or only specific characters?
Cathie Dunn writes romantic adventure & suspense set in Scotland, England and Normandy. A hobby historian, her focus is on medieval and Jacobite eras.
She has two historical novels published: Highland Arms, a romance set in 1720s Scotland, and Dark Deceit, a medieval adventure suspense and the first in The Anarchy Trilogy. Last July, Cathie self-published Silent Deception, a romantic spooky novella set in Victorian Cornwall. All her books are available on Amazon.
Cathie lives in Scotland with her husband and two cats and currently works on a contemporary romantic suspense set in Idaho, US, and a historical Scottish romance.
To buy Cathie's books:
Crooked Cat Books: http://www.crookedcatbooks.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=47