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Old 09-29-2010, 06:40 PM   #1
basilsands
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Writing with an accent, how do you do it?

In a different thread, folks were talking about using UK vs US spelling for books. This got me thinking about more than just the written word, but the mentally audible words, ie what you hear in your thoughts when you read.

Most of my books have characters from various ethnic/national backgrounds. When I recorded the audiobooks it was easy for distinguish the different people by their accent/voice. Writing it that way was of course different. How would you write the voice of a character from the West Virginia Mountains, Welsh coal territory, Eastern Manchuria, or South Africa. What devices do you as an author use to create the sense that a person is from a particular region?
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Old 09-30-2010, 04:15 AM   #2
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It can be difficult, Basil, because -- sticking strictly to the rules of grammar -- you can end up with so much awkward punctuation in dialogue that a page looks messy and reads as though it's contrived.

I've edited several novels with heavy regional accent and dialect in dialogue. Sometimes, I've dispensed with grammar and worked as though the dialogue is a language of its own. It works well, according to readers and reviewers. It feels 'natural'.

An important side benefit of this approach, I believe, is that making no concession to the formal rules serves to show that an author has respect for a character's use of language and makes no belittling attempt to force it (or the character) to conform to perceived convention.

Especially being Scottish, and occasionally lapsing into the old Lallands dialect (as used by Robert Burns), I appreciate that consideration. Like many other linguistic forms, Lallands is not a corruption of English but a branch of its evolutionary tree. The same applies from regions of the US, to India, the West Indies, etc. We do not want or need running repairs. We do not speak in apostrophes.

The main thing from the author and editor standpoint, Basil, is consistency, readability, character construction and scene setting in the presentation of dialogue. For once, it is more valuable to the writer to listen than to read.

Do, of course, be grammatically correct in narrative unless clearly making a point or reflecting the POV of the narrator.

Good luck and best wishes. Neil

Last edited by neilmarr; 09-30-2010 at 04:19 AM. Reason: trypo
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Old 09-30-2010, 01:02 PM   #3
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Most of the advice I've received on writing accents or dialect indicated that the writer should write a small bit of dialog -- in accent -- when the character is first introduced then tone it down and rely more on word choice to get the point across. It's not good to overdo it. If you've ever read a book or manuscript where the writer does this you will know what I'm talking about.
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Old 09-30-2010, 01:06 PM   #4
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Most successful stories provide regular clues that the character is speaking with an accent, such as one word that is always spelled to indicate the accent, or a favorite phrase or invective, often italicized, to remind the reader that this person speaks with an accent.

Occasionally, I've seen an author repeat a sentence... once in standard form, and once with exaggerated spelling to suggest the accent. Wauce, in stahn-dahd fohm, und wauce wit exaw-gerated spehling to suggest awn oxxent.

Awkward, yes, but it does the job. You usually only need to do this once or twice, or if the character's accent is so thick that understanding them is a constant problem.

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Old 09-30-2010, 01:45 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by bobavey View Post
Most of the advice I've received on writing accents or dialect indicated that the writer should write a small bit of dialog -- in accent -- when the character is first introduced then tone it down and rely more on word choice to get the point across. It's not good to overdo it. If you've ever read a book or manuscript where the writer does this you will know what I'm talking about.
What you said, Bob. As a reader, my personal choice would be that the author doesn't make any effort at all to "paint" an accent phonetically, though that's obviously subjective. Pretty much every time I've read such an attempt in the direction of an accent I'm familiar with, it's been truly awful and damaged the perceived credibility of the book.

If an author is going to use regional jargon to indicate an accent, I'd say have it checked carefully by someone who actually knows that lingo. The number of Brits who say "Right-ho" or "Toodle-pip!", or Aussies who say "Stone the crows!" (for example), is pretty tiny, no matter how authentic they might sound at first.
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Old 09-30-2010, 02:36 PM   #6
basilsands
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Originally Posted by bobavey View Post
Most of the advice I've received on writing accents or dialect indicated that the writer should write a small bit of dialog -- in accent -- when the character is first introduced then tone it down and rely more on word choice to get the point across. It's not good to overdo it. If you've ever read a book or manuscript where the writer does this you will know what I'm talking about.
Sounds like you guys mostly do it the same way I have done it. Use a few keywords to indicate their dialect, or just describe in a sentence where they are from and a key clue about their particular pronunciation and leave it to the reader to imagine the sound.

As an example, here's an excerpt from my book 65 Below . In this scene are three Marines (2 Brit & 1 Yank) and a pub proprietor. The regional accents of the men were mentioned at their first introduction (Scot, Middle Class, & Alaskan). Tell me if you can 'hear' it in the writing.

---
Allison, the pub proprietor, walked across the mostly empty room to their table.
“Well Gunnery Sergeant Johnson,” she said with a stern look on her face, “it looks like you have quite a bill to take care of. How do you plan to pay, love?”
Allison was tall, nearly six feet. A slender athletic build accentuated her height. She had a narrow face that ended in a pointed nose and chin. Tight small bundles of wrinkles graced the corners of her eyes. Her long nut-brown hair was pulled back into a thickly woven braid that ran to below her shoulder blades.
Allison’s age was hard to tell. The life of a barmaid often ripened a person prematurely. Marcus’ best guess was that she was somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five. Whatever her age, she filled her blue jeans and tee shirt out very well, displaying the body of a woman who had taken fitness seriously since she was young. There were no rings on any of her long, slim fingers, which extended from smooth hands that seemed well cared for.
Her lips were full, even youthful looking. There were few lines or wrinkles at their edges. This led Marcus to believe that although the smell of tobacco smoke hung in the air of the pub, she was not a smoker herself. She probably inhaled enough smoke in her job every night to get a more than ample nicotine fix.
“Do you take VISA?” Marcus asked as he reached for his wallet.
She raised an eyebrow. A frown pulled down the edges of her lips. After a second of silence, Allison broke into a smile, which quickly grew into a laugh as she put a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t you worry about it none love, I was only playing with you. I heard you’d be here for a while yet, so I’ll just keep your tab running as long as you need. These jack’s like to bully a fella into buying all their beer so they can save their shillings for their girl friends.”
“Poker’s more like it,” laughed Barclay, “those blokes ain’t got time for girls, we make sure of that don’t we Colours?”
“That’s right Sergeant,” said Smoot. He rose from the table stamping his hand on the hard wooden surface with a resounding thud, “Thanks again Miss Allison, as usual you are a most gracious host to me and my men. The company thanks you, the troop thanks you, and the Queen thanks you.” He bowed courteously as he uttered the last words.
“That niceness with the Yank about his tab, doesn’t apply to you Reggie.” She replied, one eyebrow cocked back up.
“Oh come on now Allie my love, you know I pay up every month. Whatever the ex-wife’s lawyers let me keep back that is.”
“I know you do, but I also have been getting a feeling that you boy’s may be shipping out again soon, and so am just letting you know you’ve nearly gotten to your five hundred quid limit.”
“As always,” Smoot said, his face blushing slightly, “you are truly oblique about your approach to dealing discreetly with your most trusted clients.”
“Its the German in my blood, my grandfather was a tax collector.”
“Gestapo, you mean?” mumbled the Colour Sergeant.
“Say that with a smile Marine.” She threatened jokingly.
“Pay out is this Friday, tomorrow, I promise.”
“Thanks Reggie.” She smiled.
“Five hundred quid?” questioned Barclay, “Hey I want a tab like that!”
“You’ll have to wait till you grow up there little Billie. Reggie’s been lining my till for most of a decade now, so he gets special treatment, not that you’ll blab that bit to the Inspector General now, will you. Besides, he’s the one who came up with the now accepted “tradition” of the new guy buying a round.”
“Oh is that so?” Marcus shot an accusing glance at Smoot. “So you’re the one who just cost me two hundred and fifty pounds?”
“Oh thanks again Allie my love, I’ll probably nae make it home in one piece now.”
Everyone laughed as they backed away and rose from the table to leave.
“Well, let’s head home then.” Said Barclay, “we’ve got PT in the morning at oh six thirty. Johnson, you’ll be meeting our Captain and the Lieutenants at the session. We’ve also got a Colours Sergeant to frag on the way back to the base.”
“Don’t even try it you young’ns. This old man’ll kill you with both hands tied behind my back, by the mighty blast of a Guinness fart from hell.” He paused for a moment then added, “On second thought I’d better put me hands in front, no need to burn me own flesh.”

----------

Last edited by basilsands; 09-30-2010 at 02:48 PM.
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Old 09-30-2010, 02:44 PM   #7
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As a well travelled reader I hate it when an author writes an accent phonetically. I have heard many different accents, and, I have enough imagination to imagine what a southern American drawl, a British toff or another accent sounds like if I've not heard it. Because of that I don't write with accents either. I write short stories, and I feel this distracts what I am trying to get across anyway, and to be honest my audience could not care less.

Having said all that, if you don't know what the different American or British dialects sound like I can imagine it being useful to the less well travelled. A thick geordie accent from Newcastle in England can confuse the most educated person who has never heard one before.
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Old 10-01-2010, 07:55 AM   #8
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Writing with a dialect can impede the smooth flow of the story, especially if misspelled words are used. The impression of dialect can be conveyed by using correctly spelled words with the addition of a few familiar words in the foreign language. The writer can suggest a foreign language by phrasing the sentence according to the grammatical structure of the language. In German, for instance, most verbs are placed at the end of a sentence. The use of idiomatic expressions typical of the nationality of the speaker is also useful. ‘Lass’ ‘wee’ and ‘bonny’ will convey the impression of a Scottish speaker.
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:10 AM   #9
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I've stuck with mostly dialect and grammar stuff to denote accents. Common local words, such as "Blimey" and "Banjaxed", work well to denote an English or Scottish accent. The rest you leave to the reader's imagination.
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Old 10-01-2010, 12:04 PM   #10
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Neither of which currently apply, by the way, Steve. More Mary Poppins than truespeak. Neil
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Old 10-01-2010, 01:54 PM   #11
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I've stuck with mostly dialect and grammar stuff to denote accents. Common local words, such as "Blimey" and "Banjaxed", work well to denote an English or Scottish accent. The rest you leave to the reader's imagination.
Yes, and to indicate a character is American you could have them shout "Yee-hah" every now and again.
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Old 10-01-2010, 02:03 PM   #12
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I don't like people trying to write accents, even if it is an accent I can visualise (?) it slows down the reading. But having said that, I've been writing in Yorkshire. Not broad Yorkshire though. More Heartbeat than Kes, "Tha knows" rather than the more correct for the setting "Tha noz" or "Tha nores". It's more suggested, using "were" for "was" (and vice versa). "Anyways", "Anyroads", "It'll be right (should be rate)", etc. It should hopefully be more or less understandable even to people outside Baaaaarnsley.
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Old 10-01-2010, 02:18 PM   #13
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It should hopefully be more or less understandable even to people outside Baaaaarnsley.
When watching British television or movies I always find myself amazed at how many different accents there are in such a small space of land. In Alaska, where nearly 40 Britains can fit onto the mainlaind, we have about 5 dialects of English if you don't count the international ex-pats who make home here.

The interesting thing many people have pointed out about Alaska is that we meet many people from all over the world with every extreme accent one can imagine. So we get many opportunities to learn many different kinds of speech. Of course many of those who come here from around the world are running from the various international law enforcement agencies and therefore setting up an accent coaching session could end in gunfire or prison time.

...that's why I like the web I guess.

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Old 10-01-2010, 10:04 PM   #14
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I hate to read (and so I try to avoid when I write) phonetic dialogue. I try to make do with sentence structure and word choice. And I try to avoid specific idioms unless I've heard them used by native speakers.

Which probably means most of my characters sound vaguely American, no matter where I say they're from.

-David
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Old 10-01-2010, 11:47 PM   #15
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When I write a tight third person scene, usually the character speaks for itself. But, when I have to pull back the camera a little bit, I try to carry over the character's patterns. I've fallen prey to the apostrophe demon a couple times. As evidenced in this scene below. It's between a Harvard educated banker and an uneducated outlaw.

Quote:
“I ain’t talkin’ bout killin’ yourself. But if’n you was as smart as you said you was, maybe you’d have gone for the face so I didn’t have to. You was yeller. You always was. You shoulda been there. Good men died because of you, Jimmy. Good men. Better’n you’ll ever be.”
“They were coming for me! I was a dead man anyway. What’s it matter?”
“You had a job to do. You failed. That’s what matters. Not the law, not the money. Nothing. You had yourself a job to do. All nice and easy like. There weren’t no killin’ involved! It was perfect. All you had to do was give us the money from your drawer. That’s it. Nothing more. You woulda been rich, Jim. Richer than you’ll ever know You woulda been the victim, not a suspect. Lawman weren’t comin’ for you. They don’t shoot the good guy, Jim.”
“I was rich long before I met you.”
“Why’d you help us then? What’d you say? Your wife. That’s right. Weren’t she dyin’ of Polio or something? You couldn’t afford the medicines no more. Needed some fast cash, so you went to the fastest guns in town. We tried to help you. For a small profit, of course. But we tried. That’s more than I can say for you.”
I tried to make the Harvard guy's speech patterns more - refined - than my outlaw's. All quotes from first draft. I know it's got some tweaking still
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[Old Thread] accent letters in spanish elgabo Calibre 7 01-16-2012 08:39 AM
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Character with accent: Ŕ, Ú, ˛, Ó, ¨, ý. How? dubmehard Amazon Kindle 3 01-07-2010 03:57 PM
Book Designer doesn't like my accent... el.astrologo Workshop 3 03-13-2009 11:33 PM
Problem with acute accent and tilde in BD Dr. Drib Sony Reader 4 06-05-2007 10:58 AM


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