Dialogue, Paradox, and Dialect
Dialogue refers to the words a character speaks. Whenever you see dialogue in a text, it is most often encompassed by parentheses (e.g. “dialogue”). A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. It is used for emphasis as well as to draw the attention of the reader. An example would be, “Everything I say is a lie.” If this statement were true, it would make the fact that the speaker always lies untrue because they just said they were truthful about always lying. These paradoxical statements begin a cycle that will never make sense. It will always contradict itself. Finally, dialect is a specific way people from an area or group speak. For example, African-American youth in a city will tend to speak differently than a white adult in a suburb. From a literature standpoint, dialect helps us place where the characters are from and how they developed into the characters they are in the story.
Dialogue is going to be the exact words that a character speaks; not just their thoughts, but exact words. You can tell these apart from the rest of the story, because they are put in quotation marks. If you see something in quotation marks, it is most often going to be dialogue. An example would be, “Please pass me the bread,” said Adam. “Please pass me the bread” is what Adam actually said. It is in quotation marks to set it apart from the rest of the narration, so you know someone is speaking. If you’re looking for where someone said something, you can try to jump to quotation marks that you see and see if that’s the quote you were looking for.
Another literary writing technique is paradox, which is the use of contradictory statements. These are usually used to make readers pay attention. They kind of jump out at you and make you think. It makes you pay attention and makes you have to go back and reread that sentence and say, “Wait a minute. That doesn’t really make sense,” but you understand why the authors said it that way. Let me give you an example: “Nobody goes to that restaurant; it’s too crowded.” It wouldn’t be crowded if nobody was going there, so this sentence would be a paradox. “Nobody goes to that restaurant; it’s too crowded.” If it’s crowded, someone’s going there. This sentence can make sense to you, because if you know there’s a restaurant that’s often crowded, it may be a restaurant that you’re not as likely to go to. However, someone’s going there, or it wouldn’t be crowded. That’s what a paradox is. It’s a sentence that has contradictory statements and makes the reader have to read it again and think about it, and think about what the author is actually trying to make you understand there.
One more is dialect. Dialect is a particular way of speaking that is specific to a region or group. For instance, here in America, a lot of people speak English, but there are different areas of the country where people are going to speak different dialects of English, or different time periods in American history where people spoke different versions (different dialects) of English. For instance, an African-American slave in Civil War times would have a different dialect than a New York lawyer today. You can think about that and how this was a different region and group of people and time frame than the New York lawyer. Think about the different ways that they might have spoken. An example you might still hear today is in the south. People might say “y’all”. They’re saying, “Oh, are y’all going to see that movie tonight?” Up north, they would be more likely to say, “Are you guys going to see that movie tonight?” They don’t use the word, or contraction phrase, “y’all” as much as we do here in the south.
The dialect of characters can help root the characters and the story in the setting and time frame of the book. For instance, hearing “y’all” in the south and “you guys” up north has to do with the setting, the place where people live. Knowing that African-American slaves in Civil War times would speak differently than a New York lawyer today has to do with the time frame. Whenever you’re reading a story, understanding the time frame in this setting would let you understand why there is a different dialect. It helps make those characters in the story seem more authentic. If you are working on a particular piece of writing, keep in mind that dialogue, paradox, and dialect are three techniques that you can use.