Writing Better AccentsBy Janet
May 27, 2018
Writing Better Accents
Accents can be tough to write. However, not to worry. Because New York Times bestselling author Dayton Ward has some wonderful advice amidst the humor.
Distinguishing Each Accent
So, can you tell the difference between someone from the Bronx and someone from Brooklyn? And what about Chicago versus Detroit? Or Swedish versus Norwegian? YouTube has a number of videos about speech and speaking details; just conduct a search. However, I caution you that the information is not always correct. Hence, listen to several videos and try to split the difference, unless you know for certain where the speaker hails from. Because sometimes a person is just trying to practice or mimic the way others speak and they don’t always do such a great job of that.
Respecting the Speakers
If your southern American characters sound like Gomer Pyle, and your Mexican characters sound like Señor Wences, you are probably not doing such a hot job with depicting their accents. Same with a British character who ends up sounding like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Just, don’t.
Furthermore, areas of the world have variations when it comes to speaking. And it’s not just with word choice (e. g. Bostonians call a sandwich on a long roll a grinder whereas that same sandwich is a po’boy in New Orleans and a sub in New York City); it also has to do with sounds. Brooklynites tend to broaden their vowels and can often drop an ending g or an r. For example, a Brooklynite from the area called “East New York” (such as my own mother) will call Barbey Street “Bobby Street”. Yes, really – true story – I didn’t know the correct name of the street my mother grew up on until we went there and I saw the street sign for the first time.
In addition, a county does not have to be as large as the United States for there to be differences in speech. England is notorious for this. Go to Liverpool and they speak far differently from how people speak in Cornwall.
Be sure to listen to people who have the accents you want to write about. Do so in person if you can, or at least online with a reliable source. And particularly pay attention to how people say the name of the place they come from. Finally, respect accents and don’t automatically assign intelligence or stupidity based upon them.