Writing Dialects and Accents

Monday, February 22


According to a book I recently read, if characters have accents, it's confusing to the reader. Using "atrocious" spelling to signify speech only slows the reader down by forcing them to untangle what they are saying. Speech can be implied through adding slang, but never through ungrammatical sentences.

I'm not sure that I agree.

I can think of two very popular series that ignore this "rule"; Harry Potter and Redwall.
I find it easy to make out what Hagrid is saying, even with all his "h"s left off.
And in Redwall, I found the "mole speech" endearing rather than entangling.

I'm not implying that the reason for their popularity is because they use accents. It's arguable that they're popular in spite of it.

For my own stories, I rarely change the spelling. But I have a tendency to use "gonna", "yeah", and replace some character's "h"s with apostrophes.

But for the most part I feel that if that's how they say it, then that's the way you spell it.

Accents provide diversity in speech. Having all your characters sound the same is usually dull. Accents can signify different nationalities. Rather than going to the trouble of saying that "he had a German accent" you can show us by replacing the " w" with a "v".

What do you think? Should dialect be written, or is should grammar be your main concern?

5 comment(s):

Marian Monday, February 22, 2010  

I think that written dialect can be a good thing, as long as it isn't overdone. That's one thing I don't like about Robert Louis Stevenson's writing style--sometimes reading it can get really slow and frustrating because of the Scottish accent. It might be easier on the reader if the author instead uses words and sentence structure that indicate dialect, rather than writing out the dialect completely. Puddleglum from C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair comes to mind as an example. :) Another option is starting the conversation out in dialect, and then announcing to the reader that you will portray the rest of the conversation without it; but that would only work a few times in a single story.

Celtic Traveler Monday, February 22, 2010  

I LOVE the mole accents!

As for Scottish accents, I like to read them, such as the poems of Robert Burns. It has more of a ring to it.

Bad grammar is awesome.

Margaret W. Wednesday, February 24, 2010  

Yeah, I love how Brian Jacques gives a special dialect to EACH kind of beast in his books, from moles to rats, and not to mention... Dibbuns! :)

Story Weaver Wednesday, February 24, 2010  

Marian;
Completely agree. Accents are good, if they're not overdone.
As for Puddleglum, I thought I was the only one who had a hard time figuring out his lines! :)

Toys Exporters Wednesday, April 13, 2016  

I am happy to see that you have learn something special in that book and thanks for sharing it with us because we also can learn too much for custom writing by that anyway that picture up there is really very interesting.

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