Friday, June 11, 2010

What's that, you say?

Have you ever read a book that has character dialogue out of the norm? What I mean is: characters have some sort of slang, an accent. You can tell just by reading their lines.

One book immediately comes to mind:

Harry Potter - "Ah, shut up, Dursley, yeh great prune."

Also, Eliza Doolittle is the Queen of Accents.

I've come across a character in my latest WIP that speaks differently. I *think* she's Irish, but who knows. I can assure you this has never happened to me before. But for those of you wondering how to write something totally different than what you're used to, here are some tips to think about:

Try to sound it out. Hooked on Phonics is key. Characters that use slang are going to use words that aren't considered "correct" grammar.

When at first you don't succeed, maybe you should resort to other methods. If you can't figure out what the hell the character is saying, Google it.

Can you read their speech? If not, it's probably not a good idea to continue.

In all seriousness, you don't have to do any of the above. I didn't. I just went with what the character said and how she said it. It's very, very tricky to write dialogue with an accent.

What are some other books that come to mind with heavy accents? Did you enjoy them, or did they become a nuisance?


  1. I definitely think accents walk a line between good and I-don't-want-to-read-this-anymore. Hagrid was just on this side of good. He was so endearing, I slogged through his accent even though sometimes it slowed me down. I know I've read books where the accents were too much, but none are coming to mind right now. It's hard to do well! I'm sure you're succeeding, though. :)

  2. I'm having a hard time deciding just how much dialect is necessary in my novel. It's like you can hear the way someone talks perfectly in your head, but when you write it out it just looks like you've made the character sound less intelligent than they really are. All because the cadence of their English is different from the speech we're accustomed to. It's a fine line.

    Good post.

  3. Dialects and accents are tricky to write well. I think J.K. Rowling did a great job with Hagrid, because his accent adds to his personality without being over-the-top. But I have read ones that DID go overboard, though. I can't remember them, at the present, but I do agree that it's difficult to get right.

  4. Hagrid's way of speaking makes him Hagrid. That's one of the great things about him. Otherwise, if your character is just some person who happens to have a dialect, I wouldn't bother trying to force that in. One thing you need to understand is for readers, if they haven't heard the dialect you're trying to portray in the dialogue, then there's a good chance they'll be distracted and pissed off.

  5. I rarely like dialects or accents when written out -in some cases (as with Hagrid), it works out really well. Most of the time, it just gets distracting and makes the reading rough. I love characters who have accents, but I don't need them spelled out for me.


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