Nisi Shawl, the Jeff Pert Memorial Lecturer at Odyssey 2019, lectured on dialect and representation. In this excerpt, the second of two parts, Nisi explains techniques to reveal that a character speaks in dialect without using phoneticization. Word omission and word order (syntax) can show non-standard speech patterns and evoke the feeling of dialect while using standard spellings. Nisi discusses examples from her story “Black Betty.” Word choice is another technique that can reveal a person’s experience, cultural background, and expectations. It can also undercut stereotypes and reveal power differentials between characters. The rhythm of a word, sentence, or passage can also show non-standard speech patterns. Copying a poem or transcribing speech from someone native to the pattern you want to mimic can reveal rhythmic patterns. Cultural references can also help reveal a character’s non-standard speech. Nisi discusses several examples. But she wants writers to remember that difference is not monolithic.
Nisi Shawl wrote the 2016 Nebula finalist and Tiptree Honor novel Everfair (Tor), an alternate history in which the Congo overthrows King Leopold II’s genocidal regime; and the 2008 Tiptree Award-winning story collection Filter House (Aqueduct). In 2005 she co-wrote Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct), now the standard text on diverse character representation in the imaginative genres, and the basis of her years of online and in-person classes of the same name. She is a founder of the inclusivity-focused Carl Brandon Society and has served on the Clarion West Writers Workshop’s board of directors for twenty years.
Shawl’s dozens of acclaimed stories have appeared in Analog and Asimov’s Magazines and other publications; her “Everfair-adjacent” story “Vulcanization” was selected as one of twenty offered in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017. Two recent collections highlight her writing: A Primer on Nisi Shawl (Dark Moon) and Talk Like a Man (PM Press). In 2019 she edited New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color (Solaris), shortlisted for the New Words Award. Her Middle Grade historical fantasy Speculation is forthcoming from Lee and Low in Spring 2021. Currently she is writing Kinning, an Everfair sequel.
The text of this recording is copyright © 2019 by Nisi Shawl. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.
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