Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Developing an accent in writing is challenging.  For starters, most people read stuff in their own voice, and they aren't likely to give a character an accent separate from their own unless the writer can do something to make the character stand apart.  So how do you do so?

1.  Just tell people the character has an accent.  This is, of course, the least imaginative way to accomplish your goal.  However, there may be times you just have to cut through the bullshit and do it.  To me, it comes in most handy when you're going for something generic, like a British accent that a minor character has.  I don't think this is the best way to have your audience get to know a character, but if the character is minor enough, you don't want to spend a lot of time going into excruciating detail.  A throwaway description is good enough here.

2.  Tell people where the character is from.  Again, maybe not something I'd employ with a main character, but it'll work for a secondary character.  Maybe it's important that the guy is from China or the girl in the bar is from Australia.  Giving a background allows the reader to imagine the characters voice in context with the story.

3.  Dialogue.  This is tough to do, especially if you want to be credible without getting into offensive stereotypes.  Varying American accents are the easiest.  For example, if I want to make the audience understand that my character is more rural, I chop the g off of a lot of stuff.  Going becomes goin', and trying becomes tryin'.  I also combine words like "going to" into gonna.  For a character from New York, maybe I'll throw in the occasional "deese" instead of "these," while being careful not to overdo it.

Along with modifying words, the choice of words you use has an impact.  Someone from Seattle is less likely to say "fixin'" than someone from Kentucky.  "Y'all" is an easy one, and few people outside of New England "pahk the cah."

Foreign accents are, to me, trickier, mostly because, if I'm not careful, I'll end up as looking like a stereotyping idiot rather than a serious writer.  Hispanic and Asian accents are notorious for sounding like someone just fell off the Ignorance Truck, so don't throw in a lot of "choos" and "Ah, so sorry" if you want to sound intelligent and not like a schmuck.  I might mention that a Brit pronounces the "t" in "later" or that a Jamaican draws out his "a," but I always re-read these to see if I'm way out there.

Accents give our characters personality rather than generic blandness, but it's hard to do without sounding cliché.  What are some of the ways you've tried?

No comments:

Post a Comment