Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Techniques in Appalachian Fiction: Authentic Voice and Dialect in Gap Creek

In Gap Creek, Robert Morgan's primary goal is to create an authentic Appalachian voice in the first person narrative. He states this in a supplementary section at the end of the book, but he didn't need to say it, the voice of the narration stands out as being the most important element of the book.

The narrator breaks a lot of the traditional rules of telling a story: she uses second person occasionally, she infodumps the step by step process of butchering a hog, tells her emotions instead of just letting us figure it out by what she does, and sometimes says what other people are thinking even though she can't possibly truly know. Despite all of these technical flaws, the narrator tells the story the way someone's Appalachian ancestor would tell it. She tells it just like my grandma would have and wouldn't have minded at all if it wasn't the proper way to do it. 

The current scholarship (which I will likely discuss in a later post) is that is very uncool to depict Appalachians as people who are ignorant, isolated, foolish, oversexed, violent, and/or alcoholic. Put plainly, writers should think Beverly Hillbillies and avoid doing that at all costs. I tend to agree with this. The challenge is to create characters that avoid stereotypes and seem authentic at the same time.

One thing that stood out to me in Gap Creek is the use of the word poke: "And for Christmas he got four oranges and a poke of peppermint candy" (2). A poke is a bag. I know this because it was one of the "hillbilly" words listed on the centerpiece of a Cracker-Barrel-ish restaurant that we took my grandma to when she was in town when I was a kid. I have never ever seen poke used in any other book or story I've ever read.

A few examples of Morgan's use of Appalachian dialect are:
  • Pneumony instead of pneumonia (6).
  • "He looked scared out of hisself" (5).
  • "If we was to pour it down his throat he might strangle" (7).
  • ". . . he woke up with the pains" (2).
  • "He dropped the egg on his plate like he had touched a rotten tater" (56).
  • "My hands liked to froze. . . " (4).
I think he did a fabulous job with the dialect in this novel. In the current version of my novel, I avoided this kind of dialect for the most part in favor of avoiding stereotypes. But I think I need to work on it a little more.

Next I will look at the dialect used in novels by two women who grew up and have become advocates for the environment in Appalachia: Barbara Kingsolver and Denise Giardina. I also will have another piece about narration in Cold Mountain.

If you would like to view the other posts on Gap Creek and other Appalachian novels, click on Techniques in Appalachian Fiction


  1. Some of those phrases have a Southern flair to them as well.

  2. My grandparents were from the south, and every now and then they'd say something that made me think twice. Just odd sayings or pronunciations that hit my ear weird, like my grandmother would often say, "right shere" instead of "right here." It adds color to a novel if done well. :)