Vision: A Resource for Writers
Joy of Accent
here are many
ways to make your characters stand out from the crowd. One of the easiest -- and
hardest -- is to give them an accent. With an accent, or distinctive voice, you
can tell the reader a great deal about your character, without falling into
Here is an
example of three people from different backgrounds saying the same thing:
Word choice is
a large part of regional accents. "Mash", "push",
"poke", "punch", "hit"; all mean to push a button.
end of a word: "nothin'" ... In acting circles, it means you're lazy,
but it also can indicate lack of education. Unless, of course, your characters
are from Boston -- even highly educated people from Boston swallow the end of
letters not pronounced: Again, using Boston as an example, the letter R is often
not said. "Take the caw and pawk it at the drive."
for education level: "figure", "guess", "suppose",
"suspect", "deduct", "surmise",
for country: Most Europeans cannot tell an American accent from a Canadian. I
tell them to listen for a "eh" (pronounced A) at the end of a
sentence. Most Canadians will pepper their speech with them, while an American
will only do it if asking a question (and then, rarely). And even though the
British and American's both speak English, their word choices clearly show the
Here is an
example of a Brit and a Yank, saying the same thing:
Can you fake
No. You must
know the accent to depict it realistically, unless of course, the entire
language is created by you. If you're not sure what the accent is, what the word
choices are, what the education choices are, you need to research it. Reading
will help. Or you can watch movies with characters from that time or place.
One thing I do
is "listen" to my grandfather. If I want "hick," I think of
how he spoke when he made fun of his roots. I also think how my great
grandmother spoke for a "western" accent. Another great source were
the people I worked with. I also listened to the people at the bus stop, or in
any large congested area. How does a Scotsman say 'river'? (Rrrivrr).
(Englishman (riV-ah), Pakistani (reevah).) Ah, the joys of accent!
How much is
A good rule of
thumb is the more words that are 'accented' the less your characters say. It can
become fatiguing for a reader to wade through a large section of accented
dialogue. Once you've set the 'voice' of your character in your readers mind,
you can tone it down a bit, and the reader will still 'hear' the accent. Word
choice can still help, as well, by setting the tone.
accent right can be difficult, but once you do, you will find your character has
greatly improved. We are a reflection of where we live, who we learned our
language skills from, what our education is and our intelligence. It's all there
in our speech; all you have to do is ... listen to the accent.