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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Character Accents

Dear Rouge Wave:

One of my characters speaks with an Irish accent. How do I indicate that? Do I write all his dialogue phonetically or do I indicate in a wryly every time he speaks that he has an accent?

-Top O' The Morning in Tipperary

Dear Top O' - when writin' a character wi' a wee bit of an accent, ye don't want te gobsmack the reader over and over agin wi' it, do ye then? It can become a wee bit annoyin', so? The reader'll sure te go arse over tea feckin' kettle wi' keepin' up wi' ye, isn't it?

Note the first time the character speaks that he or she has an accent and let it go at that. The reader will remember and beyond that, a more powerful way to really show that this character is from somewhere else is to us a few colloquialisms from their place of origin. In other words, if we're dealing with an Irishman, there's more to the fact that he's Irish than the way he speaks, right? Sure, you might use some specific words like arse or cuppa but don't over do it and don't bother trying to write the dialogue in a way that evokes the accent. That's for the actor to interpret. I have well and truly seen writers put a wryly that says (in a Spanish accent) over ever single line of dialogue for a character - which is super annoying - I got it the first time, thank you very much. Talk about ass over tea kettle and cluttering up your script. Don't do it.

What you are really indicating is that this person is from Ireland (or wherever). So you might throw in a few word choices that indicate that but beyond that, dig deeper - what does it mean that your character is from Ireland? It means your character has a different frame of reference, a different way of looking at the world and a slightly different way of expressing him or herself. If a character is from Canada, I don't need to literally see in the dialogue that he says "aboot" - I get it already. It's all in the set up of that character on the very first page that we meet him. If you do it well, I won't forget where he's from. If you hit me over the feckin' head wi' it, I'm gonna get real cranky on your arse.

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Dave Shepherd said...

Just for the record, "aboot" isn't an all of Canada thing, it's predominantly Eastern Canada (Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick).

There's a whole range of accents depending on which part of the country you're in.

Like America.

(Plus, you guys say "abit" instead of "about" ;) )

Julie Gray said...

@Dave - thanks for the clarification but I'm simply making a broad stroke point. Of course there's a range of accents, as in the US as well. "Abit" I have never heard though...I personally have never heard a native American-English speaker who didn't use that "ow" sound in about. Interesting...

Neil said...

I agree. I recently put this:

He (Remy) speaks with a slight French accent.

Then I went on to slam in a few French phrases.

Dave Shepherd said...

That's the primary difference between those who hear "aboot" and "abit".

If you say "aboot" you hear everyone else say "abit", because you focus your pronunciation on the "u", so you notice when other people don't. Since you don't emphasize the "u", you wouldn't hear anyone say "abit". Likewise, since people from Eastern Canada over-emphasize the "u", they hear a lot of people say "abit".

We do say "eh" a lot though. But I have yet to meet an American who actually uses "eh" correctly. Though I think this is because in comedy we exaggerate our use of the word, and some people might assume that's how it actually is.

The reverse is true.

As far as dialogue goes, I'm with you. Just watched A History of Violence, and the words are (I assume) written naturally, but they have dialogue coaches to get everybody talking in a Philadelphia accent.

Anonymous said...

On a bit of a different subject, me and a work colleague recently compiled a list of "ie" words. I'm Australian, and he is English, and he wanted to go back to a friend of his in England with proof of an Australian phenomenon: putting "ie" on the end of an abbreviated word or phrase.

Here are a few examples, some might be easy to work out, some might be more obscure, but all of these would be used by your average Australian.

Footy (with a "y" for some reason)
Dunny (again, but when spoken...)
Blowie (no, don't get the wrong idea)

Some of these have a couple of meanings, and at least four of these refer to beer. Any questions? If it were possible, I would give a prize to the person who got the most right, (without cheating, which includes googling or being/asking am Australian).

We also use 'Arse' rather than 'ass', and thongs are things you wear on your feet (flip-flops). Don't even ask me what 'fanny' means, I'll blush.

I can see the "abit" thing as well, not being from the US. We get a lot of your TV, and my girlfriends best friends boyfriend is from Montana and I have noticed him saying "abit" as well.

Happy writing all!