Slum Speak Mistaken for Gibberish?



I was tweaking a line in my second draft of  A Demon Day when I had a moment of clarity on something that has been bugging me. How many people are mistaking my slum speak in The Demon Girl for total gibberish? I think people might actually believe I don't know some characters sentences are difficult to understand (not quite sure why I have only just had this epiphany) If people scan over the key bit of prose which explains slum speak they will have zero idea what is going on ... which is interesting. I've read a few writers blog posts (none come to mind right now) about using local dialects in novels and how readers take to it like marmite. But mine was made up so that makes it even harder.

My main character Rae uses slum speak lightly (words like hai, say-say, etc) , but as she did not grow up in the slums she speaks in the manner of those I call 'upper dwells' (upper class humans). But secondary characters Roland and Alex were raised in the poverty of the slums (a melting pot of cultures, race and dialects) and a number of other minor-blink-and-they-are-gone characters use it heavily too depending on where they come from. But ... last night I had a moment where a bomb went off mentally, and I can see how some might interpret it as bad grammar/spelling/gibberish, which is why I think my reviews are so extreme! Either glowing 5 star recommendations or 1 star heart attacks. I have a theory (*grin* yes one of my theories) that people who digest the concept of slum speak are able to follow the story. Those who don't just think I'm barmy and illiterate. Combine a lack of understanding about sum speak with my use of S-o-C and my intense one day timeline ... things get tricky (ah, why am I just seeing this now!).

Using an example passage from the book. Our lovely Roland talks to Rae; 

     “You on edge, and earlier you went pale like you seen you a ghost. You got so shook up you forgot yourself and walked right into Devlin. Rae, you always so careful and cautious about touching, and you got so distracted you forgot?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so, something big happened.”
     I swallowed before I answered, “I saw–” Was I really going to tell him?
     “I’ll tell you something else,” Ro began, speaking slowly and looking down at his hands looped in his jean pockets. “Maybe on my way to class, I hear a Lord and Lady Cleric talking about a problem with a demon Outside this morning. Maybe I hear them talking about a Disciple who broke Doctrine and went beyond the Wall. They say a Disciple disobeyed and even struck out, gave the Lady Cleric a black eye.” He looked up at me and lowered his voice an octave. “You need to be careful now, you feel me? Think about the questions you ask in class and the way you react to some words. Like … fairy, eh?”

Translated into plain old english;

     “You seem edgy, and earlier you paled like you'd seen a ghost. You were so stunned you forgot your issues with physical contact and walked right into Devlin. Rae, you're always so careful about touching people, and you became so distracted that you forgot to avoid touching?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so. I know something important happened this morning.”
     I swallowed before I answered, “I saw–” Was I really going to tell him?
     “I’ll tell you something else,” Ro began, speaking slowly and looking down at his hands looped in his jean pockets. “Let's say on my way to class I heard a Lord and Lady Cleric talking about a problem with a demon Outside this morning. What if I heard them talking about a Disciple who broke Doctrine and went beyond the Wall. They said a Disciple disobeyed and even lashed out giving the Lady Cleric a black eye.” He looked up at me and lowered his voice an octave. “You need to be careful, do you understand? Think about the questions you ask in class and the way you react to some words. Like … fairy, hm?”

See what I mean? Writing that second passage was difficult because Roland is such a set character in my mind. The way he speaks, moves, reacts ... anyway I'm off track. The whole book is from Rae's P.o.V so only when she comes into contact with slum dwells do we see dialog like this ... but it's infrequent enough to be perceived as wrong if you don't know why they're speaking this way. Hm. Maybe I pushed the creative boat too far? It's times like these it would be so easy to fall in line and do what everyone else is doing. Being different is difficult. Aw, nah. *shrug* We're in for a wild ride. Look!  Rapids ahead. On a positive note I'm doing well on the paid sellers rank. On a negative note I just know more bad reviews are on the way. They are like little pieces of glass on a white sandy beach.

2 comments:

  1. I did find the second version far easier to make sense of :) and it stops you from pulling back when a sentence sounds wrong, which you never want a reader to do!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I felt that the slum-speak worked very well in A Demon Girl, and was much easier to understand than some of the passages in Iain M. Rankin's 'Feersum Endjinn' (see? even the title 'Fearsome Engine' is written like that).

    If it's any consolation, I'm writing my lead's romantic interest's lines in phonetic Orcadian. My charater struggles to understand him so I'm happy for my readers to as well.

    And, if a reader can't be bothered to read your book properly, and skips over your slum-speak explanation, then I think that's their problem.

    ReplyDelete

Ta!