Write Like You Talk

Though my mother has been living in Michigan since she was eight, traces of the South still cling to her speech patterns, and consequently, have worked their way into mine. It never fails to surprise me that when I actually listen to the sound of my own voice, there’s a hint of Southern rounding out the edges of my otherwise flat Midwestern accent.

I think of Southern writers I admire, like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor, and how their writing is fueled by the rhythms of the South. How skillfully they took the world as they heard it (and to a degree, I’m sure, spoke it) and put it into writing. Certainly, there’s no other way to hear Jason’s statement “Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say,” in The Sound and the Fury, or Maggie’s long speeches in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (Why Southern writing is the most lyrically audible to my internal audio system is anybody’s guess, though I suppose it’s because the South snakes through so much of my existence.)

For example, though my days of intensive nicotine-fueled word sessions have become increasingly rare (to the point of being practically nonexistent), I remember that I read everything out loud obsessively, not only to catch awkward phrasing, but in an attempt to make each sentence flow into the next. I never was much interested in writing my autobiography, but even though I never starred in my writing, it always sounded just like me.

So, do you write like you talk? Does your writing carry the rhythm of your speech? Do you pick up the sounds of the life that surrounds you and put them into what you write? Or don’t you?

To push this a little further, what do you think about dialects in writing? Do you use them?

29 Responses

  1. Oh man, and howKerouac’s
    Oh man, and how

    Kerouac’s Copper Scrubber

    Bixby Canyon.
    No one around.
    Cabin in the woods.
    Where Alph the sacred burro runs
    With a dong so long
    would scare the whore of Babylon.
    Kerouac’s Big Sur
    DTs freeze.

    Begin again.
    Body record
    Booming sea.
    Iodine rush.
    I O DINE
    Wash the dishes
    KER OU AC!
    Care a whack!
    Carry away!
    I O I OD I O Dine
    Scrubber supper

    Paranoid delirious
    yippie hating yahoo
    Boo boo booze
    Drink till I die
    I O DIE
    Do no do

    A fat old
    ugly old
    mean old
    dick wad
    tired beat

    Scrub it
    Get clean
    Tide soap cop
    I OD sop
    Tide stop tied
    Wired tired

    Even after
    Never ever
    lean clean
    dish wash
    copper wire
    five n dime
    lid and tea
    Mantic frantic
    Dog do no do

    On the road
    No free ride
    For the beat
    Blisters thru
    white rubber soles
    Desolation ankles

    Be at
    Be it

  2. Yankee-land dialect1. For
    Yankee-land dialect

    1. For dialog, your correspondent uses the United States’ Upper Midwest register, sans nasality and overt courtesy; but hasn’t lived there forever, so just writes what’s in his head and what sounds good. Shit and goddamn is the only foul language from that register just mentioned. In his current project, in dialog, one character draws from the registers of the US service worker, standard academic English, and the underclass. The others speak accordingly to their socio-economic status.

    How to put on paper the American elite’s habit of speaking from the back of the mouth rather than the front of the mouth is impossible. So far.

    2. Also, your poster has a preference for you’s plural “you all” rather than “you guys”. For 22 hours a week, your poster uses standard academic English — if you could say English has a standard — when he speaks but for conversation usually speaks in Mandarin or Korean in order to make himself understood.

    3. The active voice is key for good writing. Simple statements are best, however, it is easy to lapse into compound sentences with multiple clauses because this creates flow which is the most important item for good writing. Without flow, the reader loses attention and then stops reading.

  3. Lord Tunderin JeezusI jes
    Lord Tunderin Jeezus

    I jes loves to write in my favourite dialect of Newf. Now, Newf comes from de rock o’ Newfoundland, mind you, dat be Newfoundland AND Labrador, ta be right proper, see? I loves to write in de Newf cause I loves to visit de rock, dat beeng wot we call dat dere rock, see? And I loves to visit de rock cause I loves to tip a glass by times, see? Also, dem women ain’t none too shabby, but I be married now, so no more o’ da shaggin on de rock for me, bye. Lord Tunderin Jeezus, dem was sum days, bye.

  4. All These Confounded
    All These Confounded Words

    Damn straight I write like I talk. I can simply think of no other way.

    Now, I was about to extrapolate on mankind’s need to explore dimensions other than our own. If you’ll be so kind as to either join in the conversation or get the hell outta Dodge…

  5. Jaysus wha’?Ya want women,
    Jaysus wha’?Ya want women, eh? Well jaysus, wha da fuck are ya waitin fer? Jes come on down ta Jimmy’s emporium bye..we’ll set ya right up eh?! And none o’ dat lord tunderin’ jesus, bye! Dat god shite don’t fly around here much.

    And by that i mean gi’s a call boyo – send me a goddamn email and i’ll shoot ya me digits.




  6. Deedy Do!Why yes, in fact,
    Deedy Do!

    Why yes, in fact, absolutely. Exactly like me.

    Most of what I write is memoir in nature. So I replay the video in my head, pull out my audience from those I know, sit them around about me and begin telling the story. Usually shut my eyes and let my fingers to the walking over the keyboards, me disembodied from everything except the response in the eyes of my imagined audience, the video I am creating for them with my voice. Me, talking up a storm … flowing down through my fingertips and out on to a screen.

    In one workshop I was given a critique stating my writing was flat and uninteresting; that I sounded like someone sitting around a table telling a story. I grinned and thought, how cool is that. They nailed me. That was exactly the flavor I was looking for, well, all except that flat and uninteresting bit.

    I’ve narrowed my audience, though, aware that most aren’t interested in how Grannie drove her brand new car for the first time right down the middle of the street and simply tell these family tales on my blog.

  7. Dialect & WritingEven
    Dialect & Writing

    Even though my father lived in the South (TN & N. GA) until he was 23, he doesn’t have the slightest hint of a southern accent. He claims he never did, which I find doubtful, so his whole zero-South identity is a total mystery to me. I have an idea as to why, but I can’t figure it out. I guess it’s his business.

    But yeah, I’ve written in dialect. The various southern accents are all my favorites – as opposed to the York county PA accent that sounds like steel cat-nails on a rusty blackboard to my ears. For a demonstration, pretend you’re tasting rotten, concentrated lemon juice on your lips and then try to talk. To add authenticity, don’t leave out any racial slurs!

    I noticed the southern-accent-language-connection during my years working at the three Crackers comedy clubs in my hometown. It didn’t take long to see that comics with a southern accent have a huge advantage over non-accent having comics. Add a guitar and forget about it! Examples would be: Rodney Carrington, Tim Wilson, and Barry Martin (r.i.p.). I proved my point to Rodney once by repeating things he said, just like he’d said them. In my dialect, they weren’t funny and didn’t really even make sense. In his dialect, they were hilarious.

    I always read ol’ what’s his name…um…Faulkner! I didn’t read Jason that way though. Carolyn definitely though.
    When I read Flannery O’Connor I hear the Southern voice too.

    But anyway, this post isn’t supposed to be about reading but writing. I’ve used the south-side of Indy stoner/hillbilly accent in my writing. If I hear it in my head I write it that way. Yeah.

  8. Oh Hell, Yeah!Certainly we
    Oh Hell, Yeah!

    Certainly we all write, to some extent, like we talk. A mutual friend has told me that I use some of the same phrases as my brother in Colorado does in his letters.

    Southernisms creep into my speech. This is a good thing. For example, I occasionally say “I like where he comes from” instead of “I like that he comes from”. Sometimes, to color my speech, I use “ain’t” –not necessarily a Southernism — and “y’all” which certainly is one.
    The deliberate anti-grammatical impact of “Bad Cop, No Donut” is an example of my recent work with Southern nuances.

    My mom was born in Detroit, Michigan and raised all over the U.S. My Dad was born overseas and partly grew up in San Antonio, Texas, as did I. Having lived in Tennessee for the past thirty years, I have picked up quite a bit of the Southeast in my speech. In my opinion, it would be really boring if everyone spoke the same way and wrote without nuances. Colorful sayings are what hook the reader into coming back to read more. All regions of the country have their sayings.

  9. Words to HearI write the
    Words to Hear

    I write the language of the street, those streets being where I work and live in Baltimore, Maryland. Most all of what I write is meant to be read in performance, which occasionally is accompanied by instrumentation. I actually made a conscious effort to portray the language I live as an artist and working man living in the latter part of the 20th and now the beginning of the 21st centuries.

    My writing style evolved sitting in cafes and bistros in Washington, DC during the 90s and the devolopment takes place in the more than 100 plus notebooks I wrote during this period. The performance aspect came about in the late 90s when I started working with guitarist Jeff Aug (now doing his thing in Germany) and then expanded at the jazz poetry readings at Menckens Cultured Pearl in Baltimore. I fine tuned my performance act at Funk’s Democratic Coffee House in Fells Point with a variety of musicians, culminating in 2001-02 with my LitKicks Poets readings — when I’d read poetry by the many action poets, once 12 different poets in one night. I would have to say reading other poets works took my performance career to a never before imagined level of stimulation, that can only be explained as exhilarating.

    I’m still performing every chance I get, the next being February 12th at Gallery 1448 here in Baltimore doing Erotic Love Poetry.

  10. QuicklySpeaking and writing

    Speaking and writing are, in my thoughts, the same, except that the former is audial and the latter is visual. I prefer actions make sounds as they move in dance configurations, the figure eight, preferrably, so an added bonus is this figure eight can lie gracefully on its side in self-contained infinity.

    When I listen to most people speak, I hear their letters fused in such a way that because the sources don’t utilize punctuation in their speech, the speech spills forth in the format of audial epilepsy: a string of erratic, short sentences that fall flat on the nearest patch of sharp pavement, their only punctuation forced when the speaker pauses for breath, the next impulse, or both, and phrases are left free to crash discordant in a writhing heap.

    Obscure and unattainable, I find, are people who speak in poetry, their syllables embracing consonants and vowels like piano keys chase hammers that pelt slender strings; their vowels skim the surfaces of their consonants, and their notes punctuate, directing rhythm such that the words are weightless enough to drift to my ears, their reverberating chords pleading with me to listen with the proper rhythm. This may be why I’m not tone deaf, though I am a product of people who are.

    Reading poetry taught me to write poetry, and writing poetry taught me to speak. I stopped mentally spinning consonants and vowels into syllables when they began to manifest randomly in my speech, and I found it necessary to carry a pen and tiny notepad with me at all times so I could capture on paper the sometimes complete spontaneous poems I would recite during conversation. At this time, I was writing at least one poem per day and at least two major prose pieces per week. When I lost all traces of rhythm, I lost my ability to write and, subsequently, my ability to speak, and I abused the use of short sentences that contained no commas. As of now, I’m only able to speak or write fluidly when I’m inspired by something rare and beautiful, something of subtle glow, something that keeps audial epilepsy beyond the walls of words.

    Fluid beauty requires excessive comma usage, and when the curls of commas direct my movement and shape my words, it’s like having something to want for the very first time.

  11. Aye, you know that kid, he’s
    Aye, you know that kid, he’s right tall. And you know his car? it’s right fast.

  12. I love Newfoundland. Been
    I love Newfoundland. Been there in Gander and thereabouts several times. A kindly place filled with kind folks and gentle people. I love “Screech” rum and the big mural in the airport. One of these days I’m going to make it back there and see my old prof, Rosenblatt, if he still lives.

  13. A very iodine message.
    A very iodine message. Strangely punny. Amusing and gross at the same time. That is hard to do. All having to do with a pot scrub.

  14. Yeah! That was great,
    Yeah! That was great, Alicia.

    Please call me sometime – I wanna hear you go live.

  15. Great to hear from you again
    Great to hear from you again —
    and a big cat’s purr to your words.

    Writing like a dance a run a
    rhythmic enthusiastic memory and liquid message associative Flight for hope and life … more like the slang of the road of love’s mourning and with the acceleration of sudden insight.

    … vibrating temper as you speak, rhetorics of the sea and the wind, of sadness, of embraces which aren’t so much ‘in order’, are they?

    Dialect if it’s breathing life, the sun, the rain from where it comes, the coastal rocks (Scottish), the Alpine Swiss laughter and originality but i’m not a writer at all, I couldn’t do that, don’t know that lingo.

    Often, here in Germany, dialect has to do with conservative notions, corresponding writing only with the church and superficial laughter, holding rigidly to the past in an established way, repressive and a pain to living (the old wide-spread fissure in ‘Green’ movements). Then even I would prefer a unified world language … where, on the other hand, cultural colors and shades are so biosensorically great.

    Kind regards, shine on.

  16. It sounds like they speak in
    It sounds like they speak in Newfoundland how old men in Ireland talk.

  17. SureIf you don’t write in

    If you don’t write in your voice, or the way you learned to at the beginning, the way your folks spoke, then you’re going to sound like a robot. I would not want to read something written by a computer.

    As for dialect in writng … if it is done well I like it. I think Irvine Welsh is good at this. Someone I think is bad, and sounds kind of phony at it, is Tom Wolfe. That is my opinion though …

    I think it comes out in writing, whether you like it or not.

  18. you write like you mumble
    you write like you mumble says mimi

    So I write like I mumble like I think like I write.

    The dialects are a given. And I’ve lived enough places and been enough others I can comfortably navigate.

    I seem to remember from my studying days something from WCW along the lines of ‘talk plain, boy-o’ or maybe it was just the American idiom.

    So I mix NYC and New England and the middle and the south. But truly I have the heart of a southerner and a conglomerate accent.

    Cormac McCarthy’s a great writer of dialect. His book, Suttree, is exquisite.

    Japery and abomination. That’s a Faulkner phrase that’s stuck with me.

    What’s the alternative to the use of dialect in dialogue?


    But, dialect, let’s talk about demon run-ons ‘guys and dolls’ — what a dialect. What a grammar fucker. What beauty.

    Then think about what Bill Burroughs does with tense in dialogue.

    If you’re not compensating for spoken language in dialogue, you’re not writing dialogue. People clip their Gs and turn vowels nasal or otherwise. As someone else said most people do not speak in ways that involve proper grammar.

  19. Different VoicesVery
    Different Voices

    Very interesting topic. I don’t write like I speak at all, although I have a number of different writing voices that recur. Mostly I write like I write, or sometimes I write like someone I’ve been reading (which I find fun). It’s like I can hear their written cadences in my head more readily than I can hear my own, or others’, spoken ones. It definitely makes it difficult for me to conceive of dialogue for characters, or of fiction generally, which may be why I’ve written only non-fiction to date.

    When I speak I am more reactive. I am thinking about how what I’m saying might be received, thinking about the mood of my listeners, trying to match the conversational dynamic and maybe tweak it a bit, and leaving a lot implied by tone, gesture, body language. I’ve been told recently I speak with my hands a lot, something I had never been aware of. So I’m not sure how I would write all, or any, of that. But I do like reading it when others write it, dialect and spoken phrasing. Am currently reading DeLillo’s “Underworld” and like the way he uses sentence fragments and leaves out quotation marks to present contemporary conversational patterns, those type of talks we have ‘during the commericals’. And I felt that both “Peyton Place” and Russell Banks’ “Affliction” captured some northern New England speech patterns truthfully (I’m from northern New England originally).

    I would say that my speech patterns are more funny, more fragmented, and more interactive. But when I write I feel like I can get at the meanings of things, and/or be lyrical in a way that would sound ridiculous in person. Which may possibly mean it sounds ridiculous in print too! But I think there can be different voices for speech and writing. Slightly different media, after all.

  20. Boring History of an AccentI,
    Boring History of an Accent

    I, for the most part, have that boring, flat American accent in that you can’t really tell where I am from, but you know I am from America. I also spent a good part of my life in a beach community, so I guess I kind of sound like a dumb surfer, throwing “dude” and “like” around with reckless abandon.

    I sometimes use the words “brilliant” or “smashing” without irony. The only time I really paid attention to my voice was after a stint in Europe — I lived in England just long enough for my accent to slightly change. It traveled somewhere between Yank and Brit, and was pretty embarassing. My American friends teased me relentlessly (“haha, you just said ‘lad’!” etc.) I felt really self-conscious, and tried to sound more American again. That slightly British accent only creeps back every once in a while, usually when I’m alone. But oh boy, if I’m talking to a Brit, it slips right back in. Yeesh.

    I also have partaken of living in
    the mighty US South, but no accent, but I use “ya’ll” and leave g’s off the end of words, (movin’, goin’)
    In writing, I use all sorts of characters. Someone pointed out once I used “like” too much in my writing, which is about the only time I think a character sounded like moi. The rest of the time my characters come from Europe, England US, wherever. Sometimes they’re Irish. This refelcts probably more of life experience, or wicked imagination than my accent.

    But boy oh boy am I jealous of those Southern writers that sound Southern in their books. Maybe if I had that accent I could write about the culture and slang so effortlessly. But maybe not. Anyway, it’s always good to try to write for general audiences, but sometimes you can’t help writing of or to a specific audience, culture or dialect.

  21. Newfoundlanders come, for the
    Newfoundlanders come, for the most part, from that part of the world. There is a lot of folks from Wales, but also many from Ireland. The influences can be heard in their music, language, and other aspects, yet they have developed their own unique traditions and lore as they’ve been away from the old places for a long, long time.

  22. Thanks for your comment.
    Thanks for your comment. This poem is deeply entwined with Kerouac’s Big Sur where he tries to detox and contemplates a copper scrubber for hours. Tried to capture some of the rhythms of his prose and poetry in my own style.

  23. I Don’t Talk in EnglishSo I
    I Don’t Talk in English

    So I don’t write like I talk when I write in English. I talk in “rosarino”. The rest of Argentina says that we use to “eat” the final s in the words when we talk. I can’t identify an accent myself but sure I have one. I’m very gestural when I talk, I think that maybe something about it is in my writing.

  24. I don’t know, should I ?If I
    I don’t know, should I ?

    If I were to write like I speak people would find it hard to read me cuz I’m just a long run on sentence I’m never too sure where to put the period.. I think I just saw a space but din’t really want to SEEEE it there. I mean reading is a visual process not just words I also notice the structure of words on the page. YOu know the funny spaces the page has with sooooo many words on it? How the variation in the number of letters in a word make an interesting pattern? That’s what’s fun about poetry. I’d like to make all sorts of spaces in between letters and words . You think it would make the reader -read it differently?

    I think that’s the toughest part for me when writing the way I speak- you’d trip over my words! But it makes me think what If I were TO change up the L e t t e r s would it make you read it differently? And if it did work how would I know ? (which just brings up other questions in my head, like does it matter what u intended or what the reader gets out of it)? hahahahah seee.. .yeah if I wrote like I talk none of it would make sense. Oh by the way I love reading southern accents I like the way it sounds in my head. One thing people seem to always point out about my speech is the way I say Mountain and button,,, hmmm hopefully this makes sense.. I say mout-in’ or but-in’ something like that. hmm like I say the “I” silent I guess. Hell I don’t know where I got that from but somewhere a long the line I went that way and kept it. Even thou I acknowledge it now it’s hard for me to correct. Fuck it I like it. Dialects rock if you’re able to capture them. And then there’s slang? I’ve read some books that had what’s it called footnotes, to let you know what certain words meant. Okay I’ll stop now. Heh.

  25. Hi judih.! Thank you for your
    Hi judih.! Thank you for your response. you should email me. I’m stillglaring@yahoo.com. I also have a sound clip of a reading you might like.

    And, hi, ARAHH! Thank you for your response. I always enjoy them. I get lost and spin inside them. Yes, shine on.

  26. Southern DialectWhen dialect
    Southern Dialect

    When dialect creeps into my writing, it’s pretty much always Southern dialect. I grew up using and hearing the word “y’all” everyday so I use that one a lot. It’s a little awkward to use the possessive of that word in writing, even though Southerners say it all the time — for example, even though it wouldn’t sound weird to us to say something like “Can I use y’all’s bathroom?”, it definitely looks strange on paper.

    Also, when I’m writing in dialect I don’t usually put g’s at the end of “-ing” words. People here don’t say the g’s, so there’s no point in writing them. I also don’t use apostrophes when I take off the g, because it happens so often that after a while you just take it for granted — our speech is so lazy and clipped that if you were going to accurately write everything a Southerner says, even one sentence would have a ridiculous number of apostrophes.

    Other Southernisms that make their way into my writing – “fixin to”, “whole nother thing”, “ain’t”, “I might could”, and the substitution of “them” for “those” (An example would be something like “Y’all be careful on them stairs!”). I’ve always been really fascinated when I saw Southern dialects in writing — I just wish there were more authors who could write them convincingly and without sounding hokey.

  27. Yeah, definitely. Though you
    Yeah, definitely. Though you didn’t actually mention them, you reminded me of a couple of my favorites — “useta” and “liketa never”, as in, “I useta could do that, but I ain’t tried it in awhile” and “She was talking so much, I liketa never get off the phone.” Southern is great, because sometimes, really, it’s like a whole other language.

  28. Think of all the Southern
    Think of all the Southern variations just around here in Maryland and Virginia ya got Appalachian, Piedmont, Tidewater southern Maryland, remnants of southeast D.C. accents which I grew up with and of course the mystic sounds of Bawlmer and all its charmed variations.

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