Writin' Accents

7:00 AM




There are a thousand other blog posts by people much more qualified and experienced than me that talk about writing different voices and accents, of course. But it's something I've had to deal with multiple times, especially over the past year or two, so I thought I'd share some amateur's tips, a few short things I've found helpful when writing dialogue.

Accents are hard to write, aren't they? I've written Cockney English, Irish, all variations of American, and (mostly attempted) Norwegian accents, and they all come with their own unique struggles. There's a fine line between making the dialogue authentic and overdoing it, and I end up on the wrong side of it a lot of the time. It definitely takes work and time if you want to do it right, but it's worth it!

Very rarely should you use the Doctor as an example. Just saying. 

Helpful Tips and Stuff:

All Characters Have Accents. This is one I didn't think about for a long time, but it's true when you think about. Even if it doesn't sound exotic to you, it sounds exotic to someone else - unless your character is from nowhere at all, they're going to have some kind of accent. Some are more subtle than others but every region has its words and tics. Try spending some time thinking about where your character was born or spent most of their childhood in, the people they were around, etc...what would they have picked up? Someone who traveled a lot might have several different speaking habits, and someone who's been in one place their whole life is probably going to have a very strong accent from wherever that is. Likewise, someone who lives in a small town with many of the same people will probably have more of a definable accent than someone in a city, where they might be influenced by lots of different accents! 



Writing Accents Correctly Takes Research. Unless you're from the same area as the character and have experience with the accent, you're going to need to look things up. Don't go off what you hear on TV, by any means! While that can sometimes be accurate, especially if the actor is from that area, it's often exaggerated. (I'm looking at you, Doctor Who.) Spend some time digging into the specifics of it. You can google accent tics, or tips for writing that specific accent, or whatever else you can think of. The internet is helpful for that kind of stuff - really get into it! Learning commonly used words/phrases/pronunciation is super important. 

Listen To People With That Accent.  Now, unless you just so happen to know someone Scottish/whatever accent, this seems a little harder. But listening to someone with that native accent is the very best way to pick it up. Not only are you reading about how it sounds, but you're getting familiar with the contexts and voice patterns, too. My favorite way to do this is to turn to YouTube, and search for accent tags for whatever accent I'm trying to write. Accent tags show you pronunciation, but most of them are done by casual, ordinary people, too, so you get to hear the way conversations sound in that accent. 


Overdo it.


 As tempting as it may be to smother the readers in the character's accent just to make sure they get it - "but how else will they know that Billy has a southern accent?" - this is pretty unbearable. Subtle, as is the case with most writing, is definitely best. Spelling out every odd pronunciation is distracting, anyway. A few key words, a mention of the accent when it's appropriate, maybe a few cutoffs of that last 'g', and you're good to go. 

Everyone has slang. This is another fun way to show an accent, but again, you shouldn't overdo it. Every region has their own particular slang terms, and if you take into consideration the character's upbringing, social class, time period, and so on, and find slang they would know well, you can slip it in every so often to give the dialogue a little character.

Fantasy Characters Will Have Accents, Too. And they might not be exactly the same as some Earth accent. This one is fun to play around with. What are their unique speech patterns and slang terms? What are the differences in accent between classes? They probably won't all sound exactly the same, either. Go crazy with it. 


Well, that's my say on the matter. What about you? What accents have you had to write? What are your favorite accent tips? What's your favorite accent? What accent do you have? Comment away. 


10 comments

  1. My favorite accent has GOT to be the Irish. I don't even know why, just that I love listening to it.

    Also, I tagged you! The link to the tag (and questions) is right HERE

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    1. Ack, that's one of my favorites too. It's just so...pretty? xD

      Thanks! I'll get to that soon :D

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  2. My favorite accent is definitely British, mostly because it's the only one (beyond what I hear daily) that I hear often enough to distinguish. As a result, usually my characters have accents somewhat similar to my own, though I have begun to branch out into different accents.

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    1. Ah yes xD British accents are quite glorious.

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  3. I've never written an accent into any one of my books, but maybe for my next book (an epic fantasy), I should make up some slang. I agree in that it's difficult to strike a balance between completely overdoing slang or an accent. What makes me nervous is that I might go a bit too crazy with the slang, and just make readers annoyed.

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    1. Oh, yeah. I've been super annoyed by overdone accents before, and I don't think I've managed to find that balance myself yet. *sighs*

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  4. I love Irish accents, and Scottish accents, and British accents, and maybe other accents. I love to listen, but I hate to read. I mean, yeah, everyone has an accent but I read approximately zero voices in my head with accents. In my head, everyone has an American accent, everyone speaks English, and everyone does it the way I do. Why? Because it's hard, and unnatural. Your mouth is where things turn out interesting, but in my own thoughts everything is crisper. Untainted. AND SO IF YOU SPEND EVERY SINGLE WORD PUTTING AN APOSTROPHE TO SHOW HOW BAD THEY ARE AT SAYING COMPLETE SYLLABLES I WILL NOT FINISH YOUR BOOK. (That's was a hypothetical you, not YOU you. I recently read part of a book where this happened and I was dying of hatred for that character.)

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    1. Haha! I think I'm somewhere in the middle with it...I do LOVE distinctive character voices with a bit of a noticeable accent (*shoves Cockney characters in box*) but I've put down books before because I couldn't. stand. their. dialogue. So I get what you're saying.

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  5. I found you through tumblr, and it's nice to see concrete advice on writing accents instead of "Don't do it." In my current project, one of my main characters has a Southern accent, which I'm portraying with a few bits of regional slang, some dialectical contractions (like y'all and ain't), and dropping the g's from verbs but not -ing nouns (like talkin', but not something--it limits my apostrophe abuse.) And not one of my beta readers complained about the dialogue...so I agree with you that it can be done. Carefully.

    And since Blogger is being stubborn and won't recognize my WordPress ID, my blog is http://elenajohansen.com -- I'd love to hear from you.

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hey. hey. talk to me. i'm a fan of comments and flailing with you. go for it.