Character accents: the deliberation

Mouth (2)

My first draft is complete. Plot’s in place, the right characters in the right spots, with the right objects. My visit to the story site provided lots of detail for the descriptive texture. I’m currently braiding contextual detail into the draft.

I ran into a couple of lovely accents while I was on my trip. A couple of humdingers. I’m thinking of cutting through another edit and splicing an accent into one character’s lines. But it’s not a clear cut thing.

Accents can be handled in different ways. I, for example, can simply tell the reader that the character has an accent and throw a few examples into the dialogue from time to time. Or, I can engage in that bravest form of character development and phonetically spell it out in each and every line of a character’s dialogue. The accent I heard on my trip is a thick brogue that comes out of native speakers in a musical mumble.

But, accents tend to add to story muddle. It is possible to put too much texture into a story. The texture can eclipse the story and interfere with the reader’s experience. Done well, accents become a seamless part of character. Done badly, they hamper the read.

I am writing for boys, from 10 to 13. From what I understand, these boys won’t appreciate too much texture. So, I’m tempted to trim back the accent. It’s too bad because the accent is rich.

But I’d like some advice on this one, so if you have thoughts, please let me know….

About Bill Bunn

Bill’s excited because his first adult novel, Ghost in Theory, is now available everywhere! Bill Bunn is the author of several books, essays, and articles. He is currently writing two pages a day to generate the rough draft of his next novel. Bill Bunn lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Bill teaches English at Mount Royal University.
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2 Responses to Character accents: the deliberation

  1. Hi Bill.
    I read somewhere recently that writing a story is like painting a picture in that we add layers to our work to create a richer effect, and your opening reminded me of this sentiment.
    I wouldn’t add too much phonetic accent to the dialogue, if it were me. I think it slows down the tempo if the reader has to sound things out and try to figure out what words were intended by these incomprehensible sounds. Instead, how about adding local colloquialisms, such as “That’s some fine weather we’re having, boy,” to add flavour?
    The Newfoundland accent is so much about rhythm and cadence, isn’t it? I’m not good at doing accents, but after 3 years of living there, I could give an impression of the accent by using those 2 tools.

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