Due to life I was unable to continue posting, but I will be starting up again soon. Sorry for the wait! Also if there are any topics that you want to know about let me know and I’ll focus on those first.
Characters: Accents – Da ye use dem or na?
This post – if you can’t guess by the title – is going to be about characters and whether you should include accents in their dialogue or describe it in the narrative. I realize I’m sort of skipping ahead here. Sorry! First, you really should get the idea of the character written down. Then you need their back-story thought out – you know, so you can understand why they act the way they do and make them believable. Last, you would then come up with their unique quirks, which accents and such more or less fall under. But I’m never one to follow the norm. I sort of just go with my own flow. So I’m going to start with accents and mostly because I’m actually working on it for my own story…
I’ll go back to my question: Da ye use dem or na? (Do you use them or not?)
This is tricky to answer. You’ll find some publishers and authors who say will “absolutely not!” They will tell you it ruins the flow, knocking readers out of the story – which can be true. Or that the accent is discriminating against a certain group. And sometimes those stereotypes are bad. Like ‘Kiss de blimey stone’ or ‘Top ‘o da mornin’ ta ya’ or any other cliché phrase you can think of that’s usually associated with the Irish. I should point out – you won’t ever hear a real Irish speaker say that.
These are very valid arguments. Some people have accents because they are poor and don’t have the money to learn or never got the chance to learn. Worse accents can also be used as horrible comedic relief that exploits a certain racial group. Keeping in mind that sometimes the accent is important to the story, these publishers and authors will tell you to describe how it sounds in the narrative instead of phonetically writing it out in dialogue.
On the flip side, you have those who will tell you that if you hear your character talk differently in your head when writing them, then you should ‘show’ this in the dialogue and not ‘tell’ using the narrative. This is the same old show-us-the-story verses not tell-us-the-story argument. (Which I will have a nice big post on at some later point in time.) For now what they are basically saying is that you, the author, the narrative, the ‘tell’ is telling the readers how a certain character acts.
Below is an example of telling:
“Sussie-Q was a friendly girl. She was also a very happy person.”
‘Showing’, on the other hand, means that you give the readers a scene or scenario and the character acts out those same characteristics. You don’t come out and say it, the readers assume (and some would say feel) that through the characters own actions. Example:
“Sussie-Q walked down the street, an upbeat tune trilling the air through her pursed lips. Whenever she passed another she smiled, tipping her head in greeting.”
Eh… Not my best writing on the fly, but you should get the point. I’m not going to get into ‘telling’ verses ‘showing’ in this post and which is right or wrong (there really isn’t a right or wrong here), but that is essentially the heart of the issue of accents. Do you want to use the narrative and tell your readers the character has an accent? Or do you which to show them?
There’s the added issue of: What if the reader(s) have never heard that accent before? Sure, you can try to describe it and tell them it all you want, but it’s hard to imagine/hear something you’ve never heard before. Especially if you make up the accent yourself.
I’m personally of the opinion that if there is an accent you should use both methods. A sort of middle ground approach, if you will. Have some accent cues in the dialogue, but also use the narrative to help you out. There are things you should keep in mind, however, when deciding when to include phonetic sounds or how you go about doing it.
First: Everyone has an accent! Language isn’t a static thing. It morphs with time and even more so with distance between the speakers. That’s how you get Southern American Accents, or the New York Speakers.
Second: If your point of view for the story is first person, they usually don’t notice that they have an accent (unless that’s a character trait of theirs to worry about how others see them and focus on their accent). To them, the way they speak is normal. Those who speak differently than them, however, would be noticed.
Third: Instead of just relying on phonetic sounds, you should focus on diction and grammar. The ‘how’ they talk and put sentences together instead. Certain groups have a noticeable way of talking. A good example of this is Yoda from Star Wars “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.” This draws from old Germanic forms of talking. Whereas Irish is more flowing, with words that tend to have a higher tone at the end, and Scottish sounds more staccato and short. Rough and almost to the point.
Fourth (which ties in heavily with the third): Use some of the slang from the language or even some choice words. For my story I looked up a lot of Scottish/Irish phrases and curses (rather fun actually). Here’s my favorite. “Yer bum’s out ta windae” (You’re butt is out the window). Which basically means that you are talking rubbish. Of course, if I were to use this I would then have to use the reaction of other characters or the narrative to explain what that means, or give clues to its meaning. There are simpler ways to use slang, though. Like do they say yes differently? Some cultures don’t actually say yes or no. Sometimes it’s the little things you do that have the bigger impact.
Fifth: Don’t overdo it. If the flow is rough and jarring than you went overboard. I will always tell those I help to read their work out loud to themselves or even others. This is especially important for accents and dialogue!
I could probably go even further in depth on this, but then I would probably start getting all technical and repeating myself. At the bottom of this post will be links others who also talk about using accents. I strongly urge those trying to write accents to read them. If there are still questions or if anyone wants more on this topic just leave a comment and let me know. If it’s something more personal (like you want me to read a segment of your work) then email me at proseguru@gmail. I’m always willing to help! I will also be posting a helpful Accent Tools post with links to websites that can help you with slang and choosing phonetic spellings. ;D
Keep writing, everyone!
Ten Tips on Writing Characters with Accents: Rose Lerner – http://katlatham.com/2011/10/ten-tips-on-writing-characters-with-accents-by-rose-lerner/
The Uses and Abuses of Dialect “Y’all Be Sayin’ Wha?”: Lori Lake – http://www.justaboutwrite.com/A_Archive_Uses-Abuses-Dialect.html
Helpful Accent Websites: ProseGuru – https://proseguru.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/helpful-accent-websites/
Here are some helpful websites for accents!! Right now most of them are for Irish and Scottish. I’ll add more to this whenever I come across something useful.
Scottish Sayings and Slang – http://scotlandwelcomesyou.com/scottish-sayings/
Irish, Scottish, Cockney Rhyming Slang, and other fun translators – http://www.whoohoo.co.uk/main.asp
*Note* I use this to help set up an idea of phonetic spelling for Irish and Scottish accents, but don’t use as an exact form!
Lowland Scot Swear Words – http://nawcom.com/swearing/lowland_scots.htm
Celtic Deities and Mythic Figures – http://www.terrapsych.com/gods.html
*Note* Sometimes going to the culture itself is very useful.
Need A Name with Meaning? – http://www.behindthename.com/
The Speech Accent Archive – http://accent.gmu.edu/
*Note* This is real technical and without some understanding of phonology this site can be confusing. I suggest looking up the basics on phonology first to get a general idea. For me, I took a class in college. It was actually fun! I may or may not make a post about phonology. If there is anyone interested, let me know.
Youtube! I strongly suggest searching for real speakers of the accent you want to mimic and listening to them. For Irish I used this wonderful gal Lainehh as a reffereance. Not only is listening from the source better, but can be quite intertaining (you are a very funny girl Lainehh and injoyed watching you!) – https://www.youtube.com/user/Lainehh
It starts with an idea. Perhaps a word. Or an interesting quirk you saw – like that girl who wears a raccoon tail (hopefully fake!) and punk clothes in Animal Science during fourth period. Maybe it’s the world in your dreams – vampire robots… that feed on cellulite? How bizarre! It does not matter where this idea or thought came from or why. The important thing is that you had it. Now, for the biggest step: WRITE IT DOWN! You cannot start anything without taking the first step – putting pen to paper (or is it fingers to keys now?). Who cares if it seems silly, pointless, and yes, even stupid, but we all have our moments. No, what matters is that it tickled your fancy enough to think it. You might not use the idea right away. Heck! You might never use what you wrote down at all. But oh-joy, when you are well into your writing escapades and come upon a mental road block, look through your old notes, journals, or even collection of napkins and find that one little piece of inspiration you need to finish a masterpiece. It makes the struggle all the more satisfying.
For this reason I strongly encourage everyone, not just writers and aspiring writers, to carry a little notebook. You never know when a particularly wicked idea will hit you, and leaving it off until later increases the chance you forgetting or not describing it effectively.
This being my first post, I do not have much else to say. I wanted to keep it short and sweet. A little introduction along with an important tool most published writers use (the Idea Journal… if you forgot already for shame!). Follow, and look forward to more posts. I will be diving into building exciting but believable characters, creating a world for them to interact in, and especially the unique voice of authors. How can you tell J.R.R Tolkien from H.P. Lovecraft? Telling verses Showing? And so much more! I will also take requests, so leave a comment or better yet – email me.