Blimey, What An Accent, Eh?

Accent Image

Does anybody else do this? Please tell me I’m not the only reader alive who loves to speak out loud in an accent. Any old accent will do. 

Despite how much I love this practice, it’s so stinkin’ hard to write a good accent! 

My MG fantasy series is very multicultural, which means people (kids) are coming together from countries all over the world. Now, don’t you think it’d be just a little bit odd if they all had American accents/dialects? My MC’s best friend is British, another friend is Canadian, there’s a few kids from India, a few from France, Germany, Australia. Egads! All those accents! How do I manage? (Not easily, I can tell you).

A few things I’ve learned about writing accents from an American perspective.

1. Immerse yourself. For the past few days I’ve been on a Doctor Who, Sherlock, Jane Austen movie/show kick, studying and listening to the types of words and the syntax to be found in people from the U.K. I also listen to native German and French speakers, and a fair few of my patients are from India, so I hear their accents almost every day. They probably don’t even realize I’m studying them. You can’t just pop in a few “Ehs, Blimeys!, Reckons, and Brilliants” and make it completely believable as an accent, no matter which you’re going for. And there are tons of language channels on YouTube and such, so I have plenty of fodder for dialogue writing.

2. Don’t overdo the accent. Especially when the languages are the same. American English, Canadian English, British English… and all other Englishes in between… they have the same basic tenants of structure and form, so using a colloquialism from that country/township/state/territory, etc. every other word just makes it sound too forced. And it makes your character and yourself sound ignorant. “E’s got a bit o’ t’e dog’s ‘air about him, don’ ‘e?” Does that make sense to anyone besides me, since I wrote it? If you’re an accent/dialect master, then maybe it does. But it’s just too much for most readers.

3. Take into account everything about your character before you engage their accent. Are they well educated? Under educated? Rich? Poor? From the north, from the south? From the moon? We should have a good character sketch and background before we assign an accent, otherwise it’ll really look forced.

4. RESEARCH!! Nothing is better than a bit of good research. i’ve done my share, so I’m hoping that my accents appear natural and not forced. Once my manuscript gets to an editor, I’m hoping any little tidbits that’ve gone astray will be fixed in editing. 

I’ve found a few good blogs and resources to help me through this quite difficult process.

This

And This

This one’s good, too.

There are lots of other places and sites that give great advice on how to write accents. Much better than my little blog. But it’s fun to talk aboot. Ha! See what I did there? 😛

Happy writing, all!

 

I shouldn’t be saying this – high treason, really – but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren’t fooled by our accent into detecting brilliance that may not really be there.
~ Stephen Fry

I used to say that whenever people heard my Southern accent, they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points.
~ Jeff Foxworthy

Everyone seemed to be doing well except me and my career. And my accent was no helping me any.
~ Desi Arnaz

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19 thoughts on “Blimey, What An Accent, Eh?

  1. What a valuable point. I like this because it is so easy to start writing and to the writer, that detail may seem small, but it might be highly noticeable or ring false with a reader. That is why I am writing a fantasy novel…no accents. I can just make up whatever words and syntax styles I want! Haha! But good luck with your varied characters. I like the versatility, and I like how you are researching on your patients, haha, that’s awesome. 🙂

    • I write fantasy, as well, but it’s ‘magical realism’ and set primarily on Earth. When I knew there’d be people from all over the world, I almost kicked myself knowing I’d have to work with accents, but that’s what happens when the muse strikes! 🙂 I usually write all my dialogue in regular English, then I go back and change it. If I try too hard to get the perfect accent right when I’m writing it the first time, I become bogged down by it and then I lose my momentum. Coming back to it really helps to focus my energies all on making the accents work.
      Yes, my patients are totally unaware! 🙂 It’s a great place for research.

      • Oooo magical realism! Fun fun! I am eager to read it upon completion! I love fantasy! That is really smart to go with the rhythm while you have it, and fix it later. I too like to get the ideas out and flowing, and then focus on detail corrections later. I make asterisks all over the place where I need to further explain. That patient thing still cracks me up! Haha. I love it. 🙂

  2. I LOVE speaking out loud with a British accent. Luckily, my boyfriend loves it when I do too. My sister and I will speak to each other in a variety of accents when we converse. I don’t actually write accents, but I do research on colloquial slang and phrases if the character calls for it, mostly because I know there are certain words and phrases that are almost strictly American and I don’t want my non-American characters saying them.

    • Yay! Another person unafraid to break out ye olde accents!
      Colloquial slang is so important, I agree! And it’s so hard to find good resources for it. I really need to find a British friend to read my book and give me some pointers. I do the best with the resources I have, but human perspective is always better.

  3. I usually don’t read my own writing in an accent (even if I’m writing about a character who has an accent), but when I happen upon a news article from The Guardian, the BBC, or some other such site . . . I read it in a British accent. 🙂

  4. So true! It takes a lot of work to make an accent believable. That’s awesome that you’re doing so much research to make it work–and that you have such a diverse cast of characters!

    I used to fall into a British accent all the time when I read aloud! But I got too self-conscious and broke the habit. When I first moved to Washington, I thought it was so funny that everyone sounded so Canadian, saying “bayg” instead of “bag” and stuff like that. Then, the other day, I called a dragon a “draygon.” It was mortifying to my Californian heart. 🙂

  5. I don’t read aloud in accents, but I do read in accents. And I speak in accents sometimes but that’s just when I’m being weird. One of my characters, I read him in a British accent, even though he’s American, but he uses that posh language speak in a patronizing manner – British speak is really good at patronizing though so how can I resist.

  6. Ah, accents. How do you make it enough, but not so much Hagrid is floating around your pages…. I have my Irish boy, but I’ve struggled with trying to make the accent stick. It probably didn’t help that he was a Scotsman first! You have some marvelous recommendations and I will have to take a look at the sites you cite, and maybe some videos. I never thought of that before. Glad to know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this. Marvelous post.

    • Yes, it’s a constant struggle, and sometimes I’m kicking myself for making the books so multicultural, but it’s pretty important to the plot. I know, in the end, it’ll be worth it, but the extra work is so tiring. I hope you find some good inspiration!

  7. Haha I totally try to do this sometimes with current novel, Hooligans in Shining Armour. Try to read Belfast characters’ dialogue with a Belfast/Northern Irish accent. Pretty much an epic fail lol. Though I did do tons and TONS of research into writing it, so that I can do. I just can’t read it lol.

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