“Pardon Me, Do You Have Any Grey Poupon?”—6 Tips for Writing Accents

Author:
Publish date:

Writing accents can be difficult. You don’t want to use words or phrases that are so obscure you have to be a linguist for the FBI to decipher them, nor do you want to use contractions that make your reader stop reading to figure out what in the world that character just said. There’s a fine balance. Here are a few suggestions to help get you started on adding accents to dialogue.

Dreadlands-Wolf-Moon-book-cover
Jamie-Engle-author-writer

Column by Jaimie M. Engle,author of new novel, DREADLANDS: WOLF MOON.
Before releasing her debut novel CLIFTON CHASE AND THE ARROW OF LIGHT,
she ran a body shop, modeled bikinis, danced in the Aloha Bowl halftime show,
and managed a hip-hop band. Engle offers a coaching & editing service for aspiring
writers, teaches writing classes, and volunteers with elementary school & library
writing programs. Find her on Twitter.

1. Contractions—If you shorten words, like "What's 'e doin' 'ere?" it reads more British while “Vat could he vant with her?” is more Russian or even Transylvanian. Contractions force the reader to read the text through the provided accent; however, be certain you don’t overdo it or you’ll lose your audience.

(Submission Checklist: Double-Check These 16 Things Before Sending Your Book Out.)

2. Phrasing—Including stereotypical phrasing, specific to that character, helps the reader to visualize the accent. "Whatever could he want with her, darling?” is a different accent from a different social status than “What the blazes does he want with her?" Or "That's a bloody foolish thing to do" reads from a different region in the world than “That’s, like, so stupid or something.” Or even, "If ya say so, mate” verses “If ya say so, partner.” These additions keep each character's dialogue unique and realistic, but can also lend to your accent.

3. Say It—If you just flat out say where the character is from, the reader will be tasked with adding in the accent. I think you should help them with some of the abovementioned ideas, but it's as easy as: "I don't know a thing," she said, her British accent lingering like a wisp of smoke. The hope here is that every time that character speaks, the reader adds the appropriate lilt.

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. 
Order the book from WD at a discount.

4. Name Calling—Choose names that reflect heritage. If her name is Olga, we will naturally stereotype her voice as opposed to Brittany or Johnny No Thumbs or Chang. Giving names that hold double meaning or are specific to a culture, time period, or region really help the readers to better hear the accent.

5. Copycat—Look through books like Harry Potter where many accents throughout the world pepper the series, from British to Romanian to Irish, etc., and study how Rowling portrayed each nationality through word choice, character names, and phrasing.

6. Story Time—Read the dialogue aloud to distinguish the desired accents. Sometimes you can hear where you change the sound of a word when you are using different regional dialects. For example, “Get me some wawtar,” comes out more New York then “Git me sum warter,” which sounds more Southern.

(Before you send out your query, look over a submission checklist.)

For an in-depth study, check out books by authors such as Stephen King, who is a genius when it comes to dialogue realism and accents, and James Dashner of the Maze Runner series who is gifted at making each character speak in a unique voice.

------------------

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Magazine Cover Reveal, Literary Agent Boot Camp Announced, and More!

This week, we’re excited to reveal the cover for our upcoming July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, a Literary Agent Boot Camp, and more!

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Author Camille Aubray discusses her recent novel The Godmothers, including what prompted the book, why writers should write everything down, the importance of understanding the nuances of human nature, and more.

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soul Mate

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soulmate

Bestselling author Laura Munson shares how journaling lead to a breakthrough in her fiction writing and how you can use journaling to do the same.

From Script

A Fond Farewell to Netflix’s Lucifer, Writing Video Games, and Do Experts Stand in the Way of Your Writing Goals?: From Script

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, exclusive interviews with Lucifer TV writer Chris Rafferty and video game writer Ian Ryan. Plus, learn about screenwriting trailblazer France Goodrich Hacket, who co-wrote It’s a Wonderful Life, and advice on when and when not to approach a writing expert to reach your writing goals.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is misusing dialogue tags.

Poetic Forms

Boketto: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, Walter J. Wojtanik shares his relatively new form, the boketto.

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

In this article, author Paul Neilan explains how he came up with the idea for his mystery and dark comedy novel The Hollywood Spiral.

WD-Poetry-2020-WinnerGraphic

Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.