Accents can be hard to indicate in written work.  My own tends to sound American, partly because of my dad, and perhaps in part because of all those summers I spent working in tourism.  People from Ontario and the US often ask which state I’m from, although I was born and raised in northeastern BC.  A computer tech from India thought I must be from one of the southern states.  When I’m in the US, people have trouble believing I’m from Canada.

Canadians tend to be the most confused by it.  Apparently, my order for a ‘wet cappuccino’ sounds like ‘white cappuccino,’ which makes them think I want a mocha.  It wouldn’t be a problem if I wasn’t allergic to chocolate.

Imagine your fictional character has such an accent.  Your reader cannot hear the dialogue, unless you’ve skipped ahead and made the movie first.  If you have, quit reading this, click on my website, and use the contact page to tell me how you did it!  Otherwise, you have to figure out how to make your reader aware of the accent.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Have another character notice it.  If you’re using the first person narrative–something publishers and editors tend to prefer these days–it might come out something like, ‘I couldn’t help but notice his thick, Scottish brogue…’
  • Make it part of your narration if you’re using the third person narrative (you’re God, telling the story,)–my favorite, since I’m an author, not an actor–it might look something like, ‘he pursed his lips and frowned as he tried to decipher the rolling ‘r’s and long ‘o’s in his client’s speech patterns.’
  • Use the character’s setting, clothing, and words to suggest the accent.  Readers assume characters reflect their origins.
  • Misunderstandings caused by the accent, resulting in disaster–‘Manuel handed her the mocha.  Unaware that it wasn’t a wet cappuccino, she took a sip, and fell to the floor in a state of anaphylactic shock.’
  • Use of italics and deliberate mispellings should only be used in short stories, where there is neither time nor space to fully develop settings and characters.  Words are especially valuable in shorter bits of writing, and anything irrelevant must be eliminated.

Trying to create a character with an accent reminds me of a joke a friend told me a little while ago:

If you talk to yourself, you’re not in too much trouble.  If you answer back, you’re just holding an intelligent conversation.  But if you catch yourself half-turning and asking, “What did you say?” you’re in bad shape.  Now, where’s my coffee?

Thanks for reading.  🙂

Phyllis K Twombly

About Scifialiens

Author of the Martian Symbiont series: three titles, so far; Been Blued, Martian Blues, Martian Divides. Currently writing screenplays. 'Mating With Humans' can be found on her account. Enjoyed writing from the start. Also a Star Trek and Doctor Who fan. Canadian so far. Paternal grandparents were American. Feels more at home in the States. Loves dogs and most other animals. Loves cats from afar--allergies. Plays flute and saxophone; 'messes with' keyboard and electric guitar. Single so far. Not really looking at the moment. Age: irrelevant. Not to be confused with the fictional comic book character, Phyllis Twombly, who lived for 600 years in the American Midwest.

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