What to do when writing in an accent that is unfamiliar to you:

Don’t do it.

There are exceptions, of course. But to be safe, write in the way that you’re used to speaking or hearing.

Accents are sometimes blatantly overdone, causing the reader to be pulled out of the story. So, if you’re not British, maybe don’t have a character have that accent. Unless, you have a friend who can check your work.

I notice it most when reading a character speak in a country, or Texan specific accent. Why? Because I’m familiar with the accent and I’m a native Texan. (My credentials.)

Country accents can easily become one of the most stereotypical, cliché accents—especially in writing. I would say it’s overlooked often because it’s more obvious when butchering another accent, like British or Australian.

Slapping a knee and yelling, “yippee ki yay,” isn’t real. (Happens only at the rodeo.)

Accents should be subtle. It should be in the word choice.

Using a country accent is relatively easy, but it’s when the writer tries too hard, like, “hey look my character is from the country. Can’t you tell, can’t you tell?”

Short cut for a country accent: ain’t, y’all, and droppin’ the “g” on the “ing” words (most of them, anyway.)

How I’ve written the accent:

He always walked out of his house wearing starched blue jeans with a long sleeve button-up tucked in. The leather of his ostrich skin boots was worn thin on the sides. His cowboy hat, the only thing he considered worth keeping in perfect condition, sat over his hoary head. In the car he would turn off the air and roll down the window. Then every time he’d say, “Mornin’ Lettie. Go straight ‘til you hit the second light, turn left and go ‘til you see the deli and take a right. Jump on the highway for 20 miles and when you exit, U-turn at the first light. Turn in the hospital lot, the green one.” I drove the route for almost a year.

Subtle. In this particular story I chose to drop letters, but mostly I show where he’s from through what he’s wearing, his manners, and his values. Which, mostly come out later in the story. This little excerpt is to show that dropping a “g” and the “un” is sufficient. It ain’t gotta be fancy.

So, while some people may not notice how hard a writer is trying to prove a character has a certain accent, I guarantee the people with that accent do. I love using a country accent, however, I don’t have a very noticeable one myself. I do know many people who do.

Just be conscious of it. Make sure it’s not flamboyant to the point of being unconvincing. I always joke that there are certain things that are drilled into every writer’s head (a truth more than a joke). One of those is that dialogue has to be believable.

Yerr darn tootin’.

Oh, unless you’re writing satire. In that case, go all out.

Advertisements