Accents

10 years ago | grantcravens (Member)

So I've been holding off on this question for like a week, because I feel like it's kind of silly, but how on earth do you guys handle accents in your stories? I feel like trying to butcher words to "fit" an accent borders on insulting (maybe), so I've been playing with things like word choice to try to convey the accent in question.

How do you guys do it?

Boat Story: kidnapped kids, mysterious maps, debt, tropical storms, pirates, sea monsters, family, tea.

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Responses

  1. Tahjir (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I do the same thing. I've been told it's not a good idea to go all out with that sort of thing unless you've got a very good understanding of the accent in question.

    I think that as long as you use the right words, and let the reader know what sort of accent they have, they should be able to "hear" it correctly.

    Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy
    http://hangarninetysix.wordpress.com/
  2. Ryan A. Span (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    For normal accents, the occasional nudge and reminder is usually enough rather than writing out a full accent all the time. For very thick accents, when you've firmly established the character's speech patterns, you can usually take the accent as read and just write it out in normal English. My usual rationale for this is the viewpoint character 'translating' the words in his/her head.

    If you do decide to keep an accent, be careful the changes to the words aren't too extensive, and that the character isn't going to be speaking overly much. Otherwise it could easily start to grate.

    Regards,
    Ryan

  3. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I once read a book (Feersum Endjinn by Ian M. Banks) written first person in a very thick accent.

    It's very much worth reading, but it was hard going for the first few pages. Much like watching a Shakespeare play, it took me a little while to adjust to the dialect.

    I can imagine that not everyone would bother.

    For my own stuff, I'm in agreement with Ryan and Tahjir that hinting at the accent is enough most of the time. Too much of it and the dialogue becomes hard to read.

  4. Alex McG (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    To me, writing an accent is a lot like imitating one: less is usually more.
    Adding a contraction here and there in key places or whatever is a good way to keep the accent present in the reader's mind without being distracting. I think the biggest thing is to make sure it's still fairly easy to read and understand.

    One of the main races in my story (the Gibri) have a distinctive accent. I decided to describe it briefly when it first appeared, and use contractions in about half the places it sounds like a contraction in my head. I also try to maintain a different pattern of speech and use different idioms and the like.

    If you get too heavy with the dialect, it becomes irritating and (as you said, Grant) can almost become insulting (i.e. Why does every foreign character have terrible grammar and elocution, while everyone else is perfect?)

    I actually get really close to overdoing it with the Gibri, but that's because I vary the thickness of their accents depending on the individual character and their current mood.

    ok.... rambling....

    Myth... Magic... Midterms...
    Children of the First
  5. Janoda (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I'm going to answer this one more as a reader than as an author. Personally I find that accents can be terribly annoying. I try to read as few translations as possible, as it increases my feeling for English (which is not my first language.) Most of the time this isn't a problem, and then I tried to read Wuthering Heights. I gave up after 50 pages. The accents were just unreadable. The same goes for Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton...

    However, when the accents aren't as prominent (like in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South) I can understand enough to grasp the meaning.

    The internet is very multicultural if not multi-language. So I believe that by using a too thick dialect or accent, you might loose a valuable amount of potential readers.

    The most important thing to think of is if it increases your writing. Does it add to the suspense, the characterisation, the narrative? Sure, add some accents.
    Does a pirate have to say Aaarr after every 2 words? Nope, that's just annoying.

  6. Sora (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I agree with just about everyone. As a reader, when accents are too thick, I typically get a bit annoyed. Sometimes you can get away with using accents in fantasy as long as they are readable. Most of the time I only use accent when characters are drunk and/or angry, that's either for comedic effect or to prove a point...

  7. Stormy (Moderator)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I've always followed the "don't write in accents" piece of advice, because I've read some horrible attempts at accents that have made me want to throw the (traditionally published) books across the room.

    Mostly, I focus on a character's syntax - and whether or not they mis-use a word, or use a word in a different way, as I figure the readers can fill in the accents that they need.

  8. grantcravens (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    This is all awesome advice. Thanks, guys!

    Boat Story: kidnapped kids, mysterious maps, debt, tropical storms, pirates, sea monsters, family, tea.
  9. S.A. Hunter (Moderator)

    Posted 10 years ago

    Just wanted to add, that as a Southerner (of the U.S.), I find people who try to write in a Southern accent highly offensive and annoying. Replacing 'I' with 'Ah' is like a slap to the face. Just because I may pronouce something a little differently doesn't mean that it is wrong and should be spelled differently. I'm saying 'I' not 'Ah'. Spell it correctly. Showing contractions, like a dropped 'g' or whatever don't bother me. It's when the spelling is done phonetically to the accent that raises my hackles. Describe the accent, maybe throw in some regional sayings, and you're good. But trying to force the words to look like how they sound is aggravating and demeaning. I'm saying the same words as you, so spell the words the same way. Why misspell them?

    P.S. Getting the rhythm and particular phrasing of a regional dialect can be terribly difficult and should be studied before attempted.

  10. Murazrai (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    When I put accents (actually I made it myself), I use it in a way that it is still plain English despite the usage is not a common practice in English usage. This is to prevent confusions for the readers.

    Chaos Fighters...the fantasy of the scientific magic.
  11. nomesque (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    Some thoughts in addition to sahunter's...

    Regional accents are even harder to deal with if you're aiming for an international audience. Since every reader could have a different way of speaking English, some descriptors that you could use to someone living next door may be offensive or incomprehensible to someone half a world away. Which says to me that you're better off looking for common regional slang... like, the stereotypical 'lower-class' slob is a bogan in Brisbane, a westie in Sydney, a chav in England, a feral elsewhere in Aus (Melb?), and trailer trash in USA (as far as I'm aware, that is..).

  12. Sora (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I agree. You don't want readers to stop their reading to look up slang on the urban dictionary or something.

  13. S.A. Hunter (Moderator)

    Posted 10 years ago

    I like it when someone writes in a regional dialect and does it well, usually it's their home dialect so it may not seem like they're writing any differently, but I enjoy it. Some slang of the region is good. It's when people go overboard with it that it can get incomprehensible.

  14. April.Raines (Member)

    Posted 10 years ago

    Interesting thoughts here. I've mostly avoided accents, largely because it's as difficult to write them as to attempt them. My current story instead has a few Italian words to replace the standard English ones in order to give it a sense of place (I hope).

    I hadn't even thought about the potential difficulties for an English as a Second Language (teacher term) reader. That's a good point to keep in mind.

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