I lived in Peterhead, a fishing town that sticks out into the North Sea, and they speak in a Doric dialect that was unintelligible the first time I heard it. If they didn't want you to understand what they were saying, it was no problem. Combine that with the fact that I worked mainly with youth and teens and you can only imagine some of the texts I used to receive. Fit like? Far r u? (How are you doing? Where are you?)
Keeping that in mind, I knew when I set my novel in Scotland dialect would be a bit sticky. I've heard a lot of writing advice that suggests you don't do it, for several good reasons. But I ignored that advice and had to figure it out for myself. I lived there, I thought, I can handle this. (This is probably when more experienced writers starting laughing.)
Well, after wrestling with several rounds, here are two reasons why you won't find my novel covered in dinnas, verras, havenas, and the like:
1. It's a mess to read. My readership (hopefully, one day) will mostly be American. I don't want my reader constantly having to Google my dialogue or, worse, hitting a frustration level where they give up on the book altogether. This doesn't mean that my characters need to sound American. There are phrases and words and inflections that can show dialect yet be readable enough to keep the story rolling.
2. It's hard not to make everyone sound like a caricature. Having lived there, I'm sensitive to the fact that regional differences are big, and nailing nuances within the dialects is quite difficult. Every Scottish person does not sound like he or she popped out of the cast of Braveheart.
What I'm doing now is dropping a few references in the text that hints at the way something sounds, as well as paying attention to speech patterns. I've learned I don't have to phonetically spell every bit of dialect to give the audience a strong sense that a character is a different nationality. Inflection and syntax go a long way.
Anyone else out there work with dialect? How to do you handle it in your characters?