Dialect, Story, and Microsoft Word

I like to have more than one project running at a time. Something like editing or nonfiction for my left brain and something like brainstorming or first drafting for my right.

As of now, my left brain is occupied with doing another round of edits for Blood Mercy: Thicker Than Water – and I’m learning just how much I misuse the very grammar I teach others. Moral of the story: always have an editor, even if you have a college degree and loads of experience!


In Right Brain World, I’ve started a new story, that hits close to home in some ways and far away from home in others. It’s squarely in my combo of urban fantasy (except it’s not really urban), horror (got that), and humor (oh yes). It also takes place in an undisclosed Appalachian area and so involves a fair amount of dialect.

Which means I get a fair amount of passages like this one:


Ah, those fun red underlines. They always tend to attack the odd names, but this time, they’re going after the grammatical incorrectness. They’re going to have a field day with this manuscript. This is one of the cleanest portions.

Obviously, it’s been some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing. For the majority of my childhood, I was raised in different areas in Georgia and Pennsylvania and traveled through the Appalachians on long car trips between the two states. It’s made my personal accent difficult to pin down. Most of the time I use a fairly standard, educated style of speaking. It slips under the radar and fits the part of teacher and business professional. A woman likes to be take seriously, after all.

But that’s not the way I think. The way I think is a warmed-up mix of southern twang, bits Pittsburghese slang, and a mess of vernacular from all over. And I’ve never met an “ly” I haven’t dropped right off the end of an adverb. Try as I might, I can’t shake that part of me-it creeps out when I’m sleepy or angry or relaxing.

And as for y’all, y’all ain’t heard how I justify the word y’all to my students. Seriously, considering we use “you” as second person singular and second personal plural, words like y’all and yinz are logical additions to everyday language.

I respect yinz. But I will always be a y’all  girl.  ‘Course, you could be like my Mom and say yinzall.


Anyway, these things–those odd phrases and bits of dialect–are part of who I am. Part of what I soaked up during my childhood. Part of what makes me fascinated with language and linguistics, what made me eat up those classes in college. Part of what makes me include different voices and dialects and cultures in my stories.

Some writers start their stories with characters. Some start with plots. Some start with locations.

I start with voices in my head. Dialogue that plays out bits of scenes or thoughts or feelings. I follow those words and I have a story.


All the Questions: What about you? What’s your dialect? Any weird quirks or phrases? If you’re a writer, what kinds of dialect do you use in your stories? If you’re a reader, what do you like to read?

5 thoughts on “Dialect, Story, and Microsoft Word

  1. I’m from west-central Indiana, and there’s an accent. What’s weird is my parents and grandparents don’t have it, but my peers do. I pick up on it when I’m back in town probably worse than when I lived there. Grammar is pretty bad too. I’ll forever be known as the girl who “uses them big words”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just learned the other day that people from Washington and Oregon are the only people to call that little bug that rolls into a ball a “potato bug” while everyone else in America calls it a “pill bug.” A friend of mine referenced a statistical study, but I can’t bring the name of it to mind. I’m sure I’ll remember later.

    Liked by 1 person

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