I put "What you doing?" in a short excerpt I sent to my mom for critique and she called me on the phone and pronounced it all out, telling me I had missed an "are" so my real concern isn't who's talking, it's how readers are reading it. Truthfully, I have several characters that might drop the "are" in a sentence like this. One is a teenager (16) white, upper middle class. Another is a twenty-something female cop, kind of saucy. Another is 35, a bit of a southern lilt (not the full accent).
So I'm really looking to hear how people are reading each of these and if one would work for one of those kinds of characters and another for another, I'd really like to hear about it and hear why.
educated characters would not drop the "are" unless they were trying to be cute or sound like a different class (white boy into hip hop)
"Whatcha doin'" is very friendly, almost flirty. Also generally a female voice. Likely preceeded by "Hey," - The male equivelant is, "Whatcha up to." or "You busy?" "What're you doin'" is casual. Anyone could say this. "What you doin'" is what a big black guy says to the kids who are a little too close to his car when he walks out of the bar.
Self Editing for Fiction Writers has this to say: "When you use an unusual spelling, you are bound to draw the reader's attention away from the dialogue and onto the means of getting it across. If the dialect gets thick enough, it isn't read so much as translated--as any modern reader of Huckleberry Finn can tell you. The occasional dialectical spelling won't get you into trouble with your readers, but it doesn't take much to make too much.
"So how do you get a character's geographical or educational or social background across? The best way is through word choice, cadence and grammar. If you can capture the particular rhythm[...] you'll have put your character across with great effectiveness."
If you work really hard at developing a voice for a character, the reader will happily translate most things into dialect. Whenever possible, I try to write things out normally. I would only use an odd spelling if the sound of the slang word is very very different from the sound of the original english.
This case is difficult because many people would pronounce it as "whatcha doin" and the three 'proper english' options sound very different because of that odd "cha" that crops up in spoken english. Still, your best bet here may be to write it as "What are you doing."
Beyond that, the trick is to use grammar and wording for the character that has the slangy sound you want to get across. After a while, the reader will internalize that voice. They'll read "what are you doing", but they'll HEAR "whatcha doin".
For me, at least, this is one of the biggest challenges in writing. Try writing it in a few different ways and see what reads well for you and others. It might still be difficult, but you'll eventually find a balance that works for you.
I'd go with "What are you doing" or "what're you doing." Unless you're transcribing not "Whatcha doing" but literally "What you doing" -- as you might with a non-native speaker.
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Hm... See, for me saying "Whatcha doing?" is a different thing than saying "What are you doing?" The basic rule in dialect, that makes the most sense to me, is that one should write it the way the character saying would spell it. If I say "Whatcha doing?" I would write it down that way because I'm saying it with a different intent from "What are you doing?" Make sense?
I totally agree with pantros and authorsjourney, but in this case, I think that the use of dialectical writing might be justified because the character might (don't know the story) be trying to call attention to the deliberate casualness of the words. If not, if it's just a byproduct of their natural voice, then I'd opt for "What're you doing?" because that uses standard rules to convey the truncation of speech.
We really need to know more character and setting to determine which would be the best to use. does the character ever talk without contractions. If you really don't want to use the Whatcha but that's your natural inclination for what should be there, I'd probably slide into the next least formal What're. Then again What you isn't very formal and if the character flows with the dropped words the only people who're gonna notice this would be fellow writers and those we ask to critique our stuff.
[This message has been edited by spcpthook (edited August 12, 2006).]
I lean towards the probably-pathetic-attempts-at-naturalism in dialog. "Whatcha doin'?" seems perfectly all right to me as an example of that. (Though context is everything here.)
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