accents in writing

I don’t usually write down accents.

Part of this is from my knee-jerk reaction to written accents from when I was a kid. There were these ‘Redwall’ books, see, and entire paragraphs that needed to be sounded out to figure out what the dang characters were saying. Perhaps not all accents are that annoying, but even so, I don’t tend to use them. That said, I can name a number of very good authors that employ accents to great effect. And an equal amount of great writers that won’t touch them.

In the case of my book– and this is where I’m debating the issue– my main character has trouble speaking clearly. And this is a major part of the book, as it affects how others see and react to her, how she was raised. There are three letters that her mouth can not make at all. It’s important. Up till now, I’ve been trying to get away with keeping her dialog short and to the point, occasionally asking her to repeat herself… but I have to wonder if the written accent would be to better use.

For instance, here’s a clip without the accent:

“Wyrren?” Rylan asked. She would be the one to decide, and he thought that he had made his point.

His lady had moved to lean on a bedpost, where she rested her chin on the head of her staff. “Rylan will go,” she said. “Saffira will accompany him.”

“What?” Dacha asked.

Saffira turned to look at them. She nodded once, then went back to meditating.

Wyrren continued. “It is in the giving that we receive. We will aid, though we need it ourselves. Be safe, Rylan.”

Now, here’s what I’m considering.

Wyrren can’t move her face. Her tongue, throat, and jaw are all perfectly functional. But she can’t say ‘b’, ‘m’, or ‘p’. So instead of a full-blown accent, I’m going to try replacing those letters with ‘ marks. Here’s the same quote, with the new marks. Does this work? How annoying will this be, having all her lines like this? (Keeping in mind that this character knows what she sounds like and likes to let her companions do the talking for her.)

“Wyrren?” Rylan asked. She would be the one to decide, and he thought that he had made his point.

His lady had moved to lean on a bedpost, where she rested her chin on the head of her staff. “Rylan will go,” she said. “Saffira will accom’any him.”

“What?” Dacha asked.

Saffira turned to look at them. She nodded once, then went back to meditating.

Wyrren continued. “It is in the giving that we receive. We will aid, though we need it ourselves. ‘e safe, Rylan.”

Or, another, with more of the ‘bad letters’ in it.

“What has the ‘aster ‘een saying of ‘e?”

Ana shrugged and avoided Wyrren’s eyes.

“Tell ‘e, Ana.” She couldn’t do anything about a vague offense.

Thoughts?

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “accents in writing

  1. It worked for Terry Pratchett, and he had to chop out a lot more letters when his gargoyles spoke.

    I didn’t find it annoying at all, and it was perfectly easy to read. If it’s only a few characters, I don’t see a problem.

    • It’s actually only for this one character, since she has a problem moving her mouth. The reason I’m concerned is because she’s the heroine, and gets lots of screen time.

  2. It’s debatable. I think I’d have to experience an entire chapter of it to decide if it was annoying or not… accents in general are subjective to the reader anyway, right? I used to be all about accents, now I dislike them.

    If it is important to the story and character, try something like having a normal piece of dialog, and then after it explain how the other characters hear her.

    Example:

    “What has the master been saying of me?” When Wyrren spoke, she dropped the letters ‘b,’ ‘p,’ and ‘m,’ making the previous sentence sound like “What has the ‘aster ‘een saying of ‘e?”

    Just a thought.

    • If she were minor, that might be an option. But Wyrren has too many lines to really consider that with throughout the book. On the other hand, as said, she knows what she sounds like, and I had to search to find examples of her speech problem, because half the time she’ll pick off-words to avoid those letters, or just gesture. Complex thoughts and explanations, when she gives them, tend to go in notes.

      • Oh, I didn’t write what I meant properly. I meant to say you would write that at the beginning. As in, do it once to establish how she speaks. Then move on with normal dialog. I didn’t mean you should re-explain how what she’s saying is heard throughout the book.

  3. Those Redwall hedgehogs were always the worst to figure out, weren’t they? Half the time I just gave up and look at the other character’s dialogue for cues on what I’d missed. Which might not be a bad idea if you decide to write out Wyrren’s accent; that is, reinforcing the gist of her dialogue with the other characters’ replies.

    With that said, I didn’t have a problem with the examples you gave, and in fact I think accented dialogue would be a nice way to further show her isolation from other characters. 🙂

    • That’s a good point– I went over a chapter of her speech and ‘corrected’ it, just to see how it worked out. It really, really enforced how much she hates to speak, and if the reader can’t understand her, the characters can’t either.

      I think I’ll try it. The parts that are especially painful to the reader will be painful to the characters, too, so hopefully I won’t lose anyone.

  4. Hi, Eliza! I need to get in touch w/you regarding the writing contest. FINALLY have a few entries for you! Need to know your mailing address etc. Email me at jenny@ez2ba.com. Thanks!

  5. It’s tough to say how to write an accent because it’s – for lack of a better word – foreign. Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance” was the last series I read that tried to represent accents in writing. (If you’ve read the dialogue of the character Clovis, you’d probably agree – it’s laughable.) I’ve learned that representing an accent is a real art form – not just because it’s difficult to write them, but because it’s difficult to make them sound real on the page.

    I’ve had some help by creating my own accents and languages. I get an idea of how they work by reading and speaking them to myself. When I do this, I consider word choice, pronunciation, and even a character’s homeland, and I usually don’t have to change the spelling of the words I type. Having a character with a different language takes out a lot of the battle because as he tries to translate his language into one that’s familiar to the main character, his grammar and word choice will show up.

    I’ve also incorporated accents by going about them indirectly. Instead of typing them to show that the characters speak differently, I listen to the accents I’m trying to emulate, I consider the character that has a particular accent, and I let him determine the order of his words. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a blast, especially when it comes out well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s