One of the most important components in a great story is great dialogue — yet sometimes a writer can only travel so far to do his or her research. Fortunately, the Library of Congress has made available a series of American English Dialect Recordings — and it’s well worth checking out. Funded by the Center for Applied Linguistics and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the recordings feature 118 hours of speech samples, linguistic interviews, oral histories, conversations, and excerpts from public speeches, drawn from archives and private collections.
For a reader/listener, it’s an amazing glimpse into U.S. social and linguistic history — and for a writer, it’s an invaluable way to tune your ear to the nuances of America’s myriad dialects. As the web site states, the project “reveals distinctions in speech related to gender, race, social class, education, age, literacy, ethnic background, and occupational group (including the specialized jargon or vocabulary of various occupations). The oral history interviews are a rich resource on many topics, such as storytelling and family histories; descriptions of holiday celebrations, traditional farming, schools, education, health care, and the uses of traditional medicines; and discussions of race relations, politics, and natural disasters such as floods.” The recordings were made from 1941 to 1984 and include forty-three states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and parts of Canada.
If you’re a writer who has trouble focusing, you should check out WriteRoom software, which promises “distraction free writing.” It aims to eliminate all the extras that come along with Word (such as margins) and provide a space for nothing but letters on a page. (The one distraction, though, is that it seems to encourage you to spend all sorts of time choosing colors and fonts for your “distraction-free” page.) I prefer Omm Writer (the original version) for my own distraction-free writing time. The image below is what my screen looks like:
Online dictionaries and thesauruses are wonderful resources — and if you ever need to go a step beyond the dictionary, visit Wordnik, which provides not only a definition of any word you type in but examples as well, including real-time examples from Twitter. It’s really cool — but be warned that it could be another major time drain as well.
Wishing you happy, distraction-free writing.