Your Character's Speech (and their accents)

We’ve talked about them a couple times before (more than a couple times, in fact) but I’d like to leave something very clear:

You are free to write your character’s accent as much as you want, however, people are also free not to read your story; harsh truth, but truth nonetheless. 

I more than agree that if your character has a particular way to express themselves, you can point it out through dialogue. I encourage it. Whether it is that, like, they use verbal crutches and stuff (they’re perfectly fine) or they use a very formal syntax and grandiloquent word choice (your character may be a bit pretentious), it shows something about their character, which is always useful specially if you want to back up certain statements (with the pretentious person, for example that they are suave, or wannabe suave depending on the context; on the other hand abrupt sentence structure may reference the character’s preference for straightforwardness, only looking to talk as much as it is necessary to do so).

Finally, accents in my opinion are a particular layer of your characters’ speech that should be used in moderation. It has the chance to be very, very annoying, and/or very, very offensive (particularly quite racist or classist), and sometimes only saying your character has a French accent may give us the feeling that they are talking in a French accent.

You are reading this right now in Morgan Freeman’s voice.

Look. Imagination. 

(warning: gif / gif not mine)

Sometimes dialect may make an entrance (dialect is different from just accents because dialect involves vocabulary and grammar; accent is pronunciation), which’s okay, y'know, so long as y'don’t exaggerate.Because if you overdo it (the way someone may overdo a character that stutters), it’ll disrupt the flow of my reading because I’ll be too busy trying to understand what you even mean. 

There’s also a special kind of issue with characters whose first language is not English. If it’s shown your character speaks perfect English, has done so for a while, and then drops the occasional little Spanish word in every other sentence, only that point out that sí, they speak Español, then that’s not only a bit extraño (if they speak perfect English, why would they do this?) but offensive (because we know the answer, that’s why).

See gratuitous SpanishGerman, and French (among others).  

This only applies if it’s not quite explained why they do this. If they’re not perfect English speakers, or if they are doing this deliberately for any other reason, then you may not be doing this. However, sometimes not even people that are not fluent in English will speak this way. More often than not, they’ll try to express themselves as clearly as possible with what they know, and if they don’t know how to say something, they’ll try to explain it. Gratuitous (insert language) is just there to remind the readers these people are foreign and different, and that’s just not acceptable.

See my accents, character’s speech, and dialogue tags for more on this. 


Write To Somebody

It’s much easier to write to a specific person than “the general reader.” Sometimes, when I’m stuck, I write in Gmail or even iMessage instead of MS Word. I start a letter to a friend—with no intention of sending it—and start describing, storytelling, arguing or whatever. We evolved to talk to specific people, not people in general. So use that. When you’re writing, make a case to your mom; argue with your partner; write a love letter to your teddy bear… Later, you can generalize it.

By the way, writing to a specific person can help you find a “voice.” You will find yourself writing differently if it’s an “email” to a six-year-old than if it’s an email to your boss. It’s like having in mind your target audience to a lower, more manageable level. 

I find it incredible how I come up with my best ideas while conversing with other people or even having theintention to converse. It feels somewhat less scary and later you can edit your work, but the main content or idea will be hidden in that snippet you previously made. For me, it’s like the feeling of being heard gives me the confidence sometimes an artist needs, to write anything–whilst trying to make it have some sense.

I encourage that you write on your phone. It is accessible, and you can and normally carry it around at all times, just like a notebook–for those that can’t carry one or whose handwriting isn’t very readable. It’s also helpful when you’ve just woken up or you’re going to bed and come up with something.