Sunday, 7 October 2012

Dialogue and Dialect with Alan Bissett

I'm very grateful for the following excellent piece from EW member Jack Hastie on last Tuesday's interesting visit and workshop from acclaimed novelist, playwright, and creative writing tutor Alan Bissett.

Alan Bissett’s workshop (Dialogue and Dialect, Oct. 2nd) was stimulating and not without controversy. The discussion on dialogue revealed the ways in which it can be used for the advancement of plot and the revelation of character, particularly if it is deployed as a flashback device. Of particular interest to me was the way in which dialogue can be made to hint at the power gradient between two speakers.

The discussion on the representation of dialect tended to focus on Parliamo Glesca, James Kelman and the f-word. Kelman appeared to be using vocabulary – and the selective omission of punctuation marks – as an instrument for the emancipation of the working class, or at least of working class culture. Opinion among group members was divided: there seemed to be a general consensus that, in order to represent working class characters an author had to adopt – to some extent – working class vocabulary, though it was also felt that too liberal a use of the f-word diluted its impact.

Beyond that opinion was polarised between those who felt that swearing is evidence of an impaired vocabulary, and those who argued that the f-word is simply Weegie for “absolutely!!” Me? I used it in its full Anglo-Saxon fecundity in the exercise Alan gave us, but have refrained from doing so here. Hypocrite?

An interesting minor issue was the role of punctuation. Need the representation of working class dialect require the abandonment of traditional conventions?

Personally I’d have liked some more on the uses and limitations of phonetic spelling, but there was plenty in this session to set us all thinking.



Myra Duffy said...

An excellent summary,Jack, of a very thought provoking session!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Myra!