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Writing Character with Accents (1 Viewer)

Olivia Brine

Senior Member
The current novel I'm working on is based in America but I have a character from England. Any advice on how to convey his accent? So far I've just thrown around the word 'bloody', but as someone who's never been to Europe, I'm at a bit of a loss.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
Good luck with that! Since the Brits write it all the same way, except that "u" and "aluminium," getting the accents into the written word can be awkward.

Garage vs garage is my fave. Turns out the way we Yanks say "garage" is the snooty & pretentious way over there. (ref: John Oliver)

You are on the right track with the idioms, though.

This linked listicle categorizes (slang, compliments, etc.)

Just be careful. There are regional idioms that might not carry well. For instance I see "fags" in there but I'm not certain I've heard that used that way anymore in common media. However, it might be rampant on the backstreet.

Another thing to help? Watch/listen to some British You-Tubers and then figure out where they're from. If their locale suits, see if there's any thing in their diction that suits your narrative situation.

A sample of my Brit-tubers? Tom Scott, Soph's Notes, Mary Spender, Steve Mould, Philosophy Tube (tw:trans), Avantgardevegan, Shaun. (I'd give links to the channels, but the post would then be filled with promo-images)

And oh yes! There are Brits here in the WF membership. (@FrancisD? I think one) Maybe find and engage them? (edit your post title to be specific to the UK and they'll see it in the thread lists.)

Good writing!

[2021-08-14 1438]
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Check out BBC shows on line and follow that.
Concerning accents in general though, a light hand is best (otherwise they become unreadable).
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
I personally feel that people like it lighter on the accents, at least the wording that you use. You don't have to remind the reader with things like apostrophes everywhere that someone is speaking in an accent - I'd say that you'd distinguish them more with the words that the character uses and such.
 

Mark Twain't

Staff member
Board Moderator
Being a Brit, the characters in my novel are British except for one who's American. The reader will know he's American from the start but, other than that, I haven't really paid any attention as far as his accents is concerned. The reader will make up their own anyway.

The only thing a Brit in the States should do is not say 'I could murder a fag!' :eek:
 

WasatchWind

Senior Member
Being a Brit, the characters in my novel are British except for one who's American. The reader will know he's American from the start but, other than that, I haven't really paid any attention as far as his accents is concerned. The reader will make up their own anyway.

The only thing a Brit in the States should do is not say 'I could murder a fag!' :eek:
Yeah most of the time I would avoid stating that someone has an accent on EVERY page. That is a thing for an audiobook, not the text.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Word choice plays into it more than a batch of apostrophes.
Cell phone = Mobile
Cigarette = Fag
... there are many others, but my mind has gone blank
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
The current novel I'm working on is based in America but I have a character from England. Any advice on how to convey his accent? So far I've just thrown around the word 'bloody', but as someone who's never been to Europe, I'm at a bit of a loss.
It is not so much accents more language and phraseology
Same word different meaning, for example
Pants
Trunk
Douche or douchebag
Take out the trash
Yard
Brits and Americans may share the same language but not in the same way.
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
Word choice plays into it more than a batch of apostrophes.
Cigarette = Fag
We would not use the word fag so much now as it means something completely different.
Ciggie/ciggy

Depending on location aka north or south of country there is also a difference in word choice. And true
Londeners have their own lingo... cockney. So you need to decide which area of the country your character is from.

I am from London but good friends are Mancs ... from Manchester. Then there are the Scots and Welsh. And across the water, Northern Ireland. Small country, big difference

London ... watch only fools and horses.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Cockney is only slightly more comprehensible than is 'english' spoken in the back country of Donegal.
We would not use the word fag so much now as it means something completely different.
Ciggie/ciggy

Depending on location aka north or south of county there is also a difference in word choice. And true
Londeners have their own lingo... cockney. So you need to decide which area of the country your character is from.

I am from London but good friends are Mancs ... from Manchester. Then there are the Scots and Welsh. And across the water, Northern Ireland. Small country, big difference

London ... watch only fools and horses.
 
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TheMightyAz

Mentor
Watch Mary Poppins.

On a serious note, I think if you write it and don't add any Americanisms into it, it'll pass quite easily as a British accent. There are also lots of YT vids on how to use accents and I'm sure you'll be able to compile a few choice words to pepper the work with just to give it flavour.
 

FrancisD

Senior Member
Hi, here’s my twopenneth, my dear fellow. Old son, alright mate. whatcha, avin’ a bit of bovver wiv ya characters are we? Innit though. What-o, tally-ho.

Basically, do none of the above. Your character is a Brit, so establish this early on. I had an American character appear early on in a novel. I got another character to describe the accent, after that a few Americanisms such as: Brit. Most people would. American. Oftentimes folks will. So reverse that. Decide where your Brit is from in the UK, we have many distinctive dialects. Decide class, sadly this is still a factor. Once you have sketched the initial picture, your reader will do the rest. Happy to help wrangle (see what I did there?) any specifics. TTFN.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Hi, here’s my twopenneth, my dear fellow. Old son, alright mate. whatcha, avin’ a bit of bovver wiv ya characters are we? Innit though. What-o, tally-ho.

Basically, do none of the above. Your character is a Brit, so establish this early on. I had an American character appear early on in a novel. I got another character to describe the accent, after that a few Americanisms such as: Brit. Most people would. American. Oftentimes folks will. So reverse that. Decide where your Brit is from in the UK, we have many distinctive dialects. Decide class, sadly this is still a factor. Once you have sketched the initial picture, your reader will do the rest. Happy to help wrangle (see what I did there?) any specifics. TTFN.
Agree completely.
Create a character, not a caricature.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Hi, here’s my twopenneth, my dear fellow. Old son, alright mate. whatcha, avin’ a bit of bovver wiv ya characters are we? Innit though. What-o, tally-ho.

Basically, do none of the above. Your character is a Brit, so establish this early on. I had an American character appear early on in a novel. I got another character to describe the accent, after that a few Americanisms such as: Brit. Most people would. American. Oftentimes folks will. So reverse that. Decide where your Brit is from in the UK, we have many distinctive dialects. Decide class, sadly this is still a factor. Once you have sketched the initial picture, your reader will do the rest. Happy to help wrangle (see what I did there?) any specifics. TTFN.
Excellent advice!

Great question from the OP. I think it's virtually impossible to write an accent properly. I figured this out recently when trying to do it. There is a certain Israeli accent that is prominent in the garment industry. I have always found the accent to be endearing and as such I imagine one of my lovable characters having it. In my head I can hear it so clearly. But ultimately I realized that anyone who knew the accent, once I state that the character has it, should imagine it as well. If they don't know the accent, it's pointless to try to write it...they won't get it anyway. I have focused more on common personality traits of a certain generation. Those that have experienced it in real life will get it. The rest will not.
 
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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I have one character in one book (he may reappear in the next in series) that has a slight burr. It's not something you want to overdo. Doing things like having a character drop their G's won't hurt. If the CEO is talking to the janitor, it might not make sense for them to both speak with perfect diction.

There are two dangers:
1. You get the accent wrong and look like an ignorant boob
2. You lay it on so thick it's hard to read

I've seen both, and enjoyed neither. You can always report the character's accent, and some readers may fill it in themselves, like I do anytime I read a Star Trek book and see dialogue by Scotty. You can also hint in the accent when the character appears, and then ease off. Again, the reader may keep it going in their head. But a constant litany of accent laden spellings and apostrophes gets old in a hurry.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
As several people have noted, the standard advice for accent is to reproduce it a little, enough that the reader gets the idea, but not a lot, because you don't want it to be difficult to read.

Words are really interesting. If you are writing for Yanks, you don't have to worry about mixing dialects (they won't notice), but you probably don't want to use Briticisms they aren't going to understand. So you are just throwing in a few British usages. As far as I know, the Brits don't seem to have trouble with words like vacuuming, elevator, and vacation.

You can have a Brit read it for suggestions, but that didn't work for me when I tried it, he just said it was fine. So apparently I didn't do anything grievously wrong, but I know it wasn't perfect, I felt like I was floundering. ("Well, this is awfully splendid. Marvelous, really.") But it was fun for a short story.
 

LCLee

Financial Supporter
You have to be careful. When I lived in the mountains in Colorado, we got one station, a PBS station that played the BBC 'East Enders' and it took a long time to understand what they were saying. It really needed subtitles. And then you have the problem (I think someone pointed this out already) of conflicting accent like a Manchester to an East Ender.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
They don’t always help - takes you longer to immerse?

I’m probably more inclined to caricature & cartoon in the drafting…I enjoy it more that way, I can’t really help that. I suppose if I really worked on a piece, layering, I might be able to project through character & word choice - ‘thermalise’ for example is American for putting on a coat. So ‘I thermalised…’ will appear at some point…

;)
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
  • Open Youtube
  • Search for movie clips called The Bank Job, starring Jason Statham
  • Don't forget to let your audience know that this particular character speaks in British accent one way or another,
  • because the British would say "ovah" instead of "over".
 

Sinister

Senior Member
I'm kind of interested in this myself. Not only did I just write a story with an Italian national in it. But... If anyone at this website were to hear me speak, instead of outright reading the words I type... I would shudder to think how you would immortalize my dialogue with letters. Because I have a horribly thick southern accent. I've been told that it's not a true Kentucky accent and while I'm grateful for this, I'm unsure if it's much better. Think...Tom Hanks from Green Mile, southern. Now, supposedly that's Louisianan, but I've heard a good handful that speak the way I do who were not that close to the gulf of Mexico.

But I agree with the above in that, if you were to attempt, for instance to write a character with a Kentucky accent... You would do far better to learn the local turn-of-phrases and in-jokes employed around here, than to annoy readers with half-arsed onomatopoeias.

Hypocrisy manifest. My Italian had one or two such as "I'mma" rather than "I'm". I haven't field tested this for an annoyance factor, but I kept it mostly to a minimum.

-Sin
 
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