Monday, March 8, 2010

Faking Dialect

MOOD STATUS: "Excited". Meeting with a builder today to talk about putting a deck in our backyard.

Well, this weekend I spent a good chunk of my time "getting to know" my characters.

I knew that my main character was going to have to face deportation from the United States, so needless to say she had to be from a foreign country. Naturally, I immediately thought of England, since I figured that would be the easiest accent to write.

But is it? Is it really?

Actually, I don't think so. There's definitely a lot more to having your character sound British than by just throwing in a bunch of "bloody hells" into their dialogue.


Considering the publisher I'm targeting is actually in England, I knew they would see through my phony accent if I didn't do my research.

In fact, here's an example of a recent submission response I received from them: Keep in mind this office is in London.

We shall read it with close attention and let you know our decision in due course. Please keep a note of the above reference number should there be a query.

Obviously, the writer of this letter was not trying to sound English. But their choice of words definitely clues you in that this company is not American.

Would we say "shall" or "due course" or even "query? NO.

An American company would have said something like this:

We will read it closely and let you know our decision as soon as possible. Please keep a note of the above reference number should you have any questions.

The differences are slight, but it's funny how just a change of a few more commonly used words allows you to hear the accent in your head.

So where do we start?

1) Social Networks! Thanks to the Internet, we now have the ability to go right to the source and find people living in the area or country you want to use. In fact, I have a Facebook friend who lives in Sweden and she is going to help me with a Swedish character I'm writing. :)

2) TV and Movies. Laugh if you must, but if you want you hero to look and sound like Hugh Grant, immerse yourself in listening to him to get the flow and rhythm right.

3) Books and articles. Like I said above, sometimes it's just the subtle use of a few more commonly used words from that region that grants the reader the ability to hear an accent in their head.


I found a great Scottish dictionary and a great English slang article.

Of course we writers have to watch how much dialect we actually put into our writing.
Too much and it could be hard to read.
This goes for baby talk, too. If you have a toddler or child in your book, you may want to add a little baby talk to make them sound more "real". However, if used constantly, it can really pull a reader out of a story.
After all, we want readers to read and not waste time translating!

It looks like I have some more research ahead of me today. :)

Have you written or are you writing a character who has a dialect that's not your own?
What do you do to help you write in an accent?

34 comments:

Katie Ganshert said...

Accents/dialects are SO tricky to write!! What a great observation you made with the email. So true how word choice goes such a long way in conveying a certain cultural influence.

Kristen Painter said...

We just had a discussion about accents at my chapter meeting and most of us agreed that editors don't like to see them written out - just a hint here or there, but not every sentence and not every word. It's a really fine line and I think doing it with word choice and placement is so much smarter.

Maria Zannini said...

I have crit partners in the UK, Australia and Spain, with the added bonus that they've all traveled extensively. They've been a godsend for helping me refine my characters' accents.

Joanne said...

Wow, even though the actual differences in words are slight, what a distinct difference they make in communication. I've never used a dialect/accent in my writing, but it would be an interesting angle to explore, adding another layer to the story.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

You make me think of some of my slight word changes. I grew up as a wee one in England and Germany and sometimes I slip up and say weird things that I learned over there (or spell them strangely).
Ie: biscuits instead of cookies. Gray vs. grey. Weird stuff like that.

Erasers are called rubbers in England. Gotta love it.
:D
~ Wendy

patti said...

Ah, yes. An Irishwoman's Tale.

How did I manage? As well as I could.
A trip to Ireland helped, as did a voice-activated tape recorder and loads of little tapes.
So much reading on Ireland and its language that sometimes phrases come at the wierdest times.

Great post, as always!!
Patti

Anne Riley said...

Girl. I dated a south Londoner for almost 2 years. If you need help with this, I'll hang about. =)

Debora Dennis said...

Sparingly, I think, is the best way to put the accents in a ms.

(oh, and cool news on the new deck!)

Tamika: said...

Dialect can be dangerous. I'm writing with a few Italian individuals in the mix and they have a definite slang rhat isn't American.

Like car is caa. Too funny!

Tess said...

A toughie, for sure. But, as a reader, I do enjoy when a dialect is done well. It adds to the atmosphere of the piece.

I guess you just need to go onto Netflix and rent all the Hugh Grant movies. Lucky duck.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Tricky, tricky. Good luck. I not brave enough to tackle this, yet.

Renee said...

I can't remember a time when I didn't use dialect. I use Scottish, Old West American, and old Bostonian (yep, I said that). It does make a difference in your manuscript when it's read. You don't want your Boston bred preacher saying, "He ain't got no vittles to be sharin' with his ma."

I know in the dialect I write I pick a few choice words so that it is not over done. I'm not sure if I'd do that with the British accent, because it's more about sentence structure and word choices than it is 'bloody' and 'bluidy', or 'nay, non, and no.'

Laura Pauling said...

I haven't had to do that yet. I'd be terrible at it!

Kind of like writing about a setting, I've never been - I have to put in the research, but I'll still make mistakes.

destrella said...

The deck on your porch sounds easier than this dialect thing. Definitely a fine line to walk with what is believable and not. :O)

Linda Kage said...

I wanted to put a guy with a british accent in one of my stories. It really is hard to do. Thanks for the tips.

Susan R. Mills said...

One of my WIPs takes place in Oklahoma. I grew up there and have a good sense of the accent, but I'm finding it terribly difficult to write. I've even thought of changing the locale for that very reason. I can't imagine trying to right with the English dialect.

Karen Lange said...

Thank you for sharing the links and your thoughts! Why is it that when said with an English accent, things often sound more refined? :)
Blessings for a wonderful week,
Karen

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

One of my characters is an Irish immigrant. So I got to put a little bit of brogue in--but not too much. :0)

Average Terran said...

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Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent advice--dialects are so tricky.

Brittany Laneaux said...

I have not ventured the world of dialects as I am still dealing with the fear of writing my first novel. BUT you brought up something that I have never really thought about. Other than saying "mum," I don't know how I would employ an British accent.

To me, a southern accent is the easiest to imitate, but then again...I am a Texan.

Jemi Fraser said...

My Steampunk novel requires my characters to sound English, but it's YA, so I still want to keep it fairly casual. My parents are from Scotland and I have a few English realtives I'm trying to "channel" :)

Anonymous said...

Frankly, Jen, It's easier to make her Canadian. There are so many British dialects depending on where she grew up, education, friends, whether she's pretentious or not etc, etc. Remember the movie My Fair Lady?

Canadians have speech peculiarities too, but not as great as people from across the pond, as we are more submerged in American culture. If it's uniqueness You're after, the make her French Canadian from Montreal (Wink)

Mercy

MeganRebekah said...

Oh I would be so nervous trying to write a dialect of the publisher I wanted to send it to.

Good luck!!

T. Anne said...

Gosh I haven't done this but if I wanted a severe European accent I wouldn't have to look far, my family is full of them.

sherrinda said...

I like a little "flavor" sprinkled in instead of a full blown dialect written out. Maybe I'm a lazy reader. :)

Kudos on the new deck planning!!! That will be great for summer!

Stephen Tremp said...

Personally, I don't like to read dialects, especially British ones. That being said, I do like Mark Twain, so I am not opposed to all dialects. Iguess its subjective with not much rhyme or reason.

Stephen Tremp

Jennifer Shirk said...

Mercy: I never thought about Canada! That's a fantastic idea!

Chicki said...

My heroine's best friend is Louisiana French Creole. Their slang and phrases are so interesting. Researching the language was a lot of fun.

Chelle Sandell said...

I agree with sprinkling in the dialect. What will help is having someone familiar with the dialect to give it a read through and help with certain words or phrases.

Too cool about the new deck!! We LOVE ours!!

Jordana Ryan said...

This is great, I actually write a lot of thug or street language in my books, so I do a lot of research on street talk. And I mean A LOT. And the key is not to overuse it...but to authenticate it. And sometimes translate it afterward with another character. I also will go and spend time in areas where I can hear people talking street language although for safety reasons I have to be careful.

Diggestive said...

There so many different English Accents that is very very difficult to know how to write it correctly.

I would be happy to help if needed.

Look at DH Lawrence his use of accents is unintelligible sometimes.

Kara said...

This is a great point! You can even run into this in different regions in the US. So far I've tried to stick with what I know, but I like your list of places where you could pick up the "language".

Nishant said...

I have crit partners in the UK, Australia and Spain, with the added bonus that they've all traveled extensively. They've been a godsend for helping me refine my characters' accents.
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