Editing Tip #107 – Character Voice & Intoning Accents

Image by Gutovavo - flickr

Image by Gutovavo – flickr; Creative Commons License

There’s a difference between reading, “And then, in her Jamaican accent she said ‘sit right down’ – and I did.”

And…

“Seet ry’t down,” Rainey said. Her dark eyes shiny; a contrast to her equally dark but matte skin tone.

If you’re going for authenticity in your work then finding the right way to show dialect or an accent for a character is not always easy – especially if you’re not familiar with that accent or how it’s written. If it’s important for your character (even a minor one) to speak and be heard a certain way, then you need to do your homework.

  1. Listen to the cadence and rhythm of someone speaking with that accent (either via a podcast or movie/tv show) to familiarize yourself with its nuances.
  2. Read other people’s interpretation of that accent or dialect to see how they are forming the words to give that certain auditory impression.
  3. Find someone who is familiar with it to help you bring that authenticity to your writing.

Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up for not showing the perfect accent in a rough/1st draft but don’t shy away from doing it justice either. When you’re ready to tweak the dialogue in a later draft, that’s when you need to decide if this is something you can work on by yourself or something you might need to outsource.

Now, that’s not to say that my first example isn’t a legitimate way of letting a reader know about a particular character, especially a really minor character. But that is a form of “telling,” and we only utilize telling when we need to skim over necessary but not highly important facts to get from one major scene to the next. If you find yourself telling your reader about an accent rather than showing it, you need to seriously determine if having it is essential to the story or not.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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3 replies

  1. Great post! I can relate, having just used Scottish accents in my novel. Was trying to be authentic but had to ease back for readability since my editors couldn’t follow sometimes. It’s a struggle. It’s about finding balance, I think.

    Like

    • I totally know what you mean, Kylie! My new novel has a Caribbean woman and an older Englishman… go figure, I can write the Caribbean dialect but I need to get help from a writing buddy with the English-isms 😉 I think being an author demands balance in so many aspects of our lives – that’s the makings of a great blog post I think!

      Liked by 1 person

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