I love writing dialogue but never make my characters’ voices reflect their region of origin – because I don’t know how to do it effectively! Then I got chatting to womag writer Maddie Purslow who loves accents and likes to slip them into her stories for Yours and Take a Break Fiction Feast whenever possible. Today Maddie has kindly agreed to give us all a few tips:
I have a Brummie accent and some would say I would do well to lose it, but I love accents. I love using them when I write. A lot of creative writing courses advise against using dialects but I think not only does it make your work more interesting, it also makes it easier for your reader to distinguish one character from another.
However, it can be a problem if it’s overdone. Nobody wants to wade through pages of unintelligible dialogue. The key is to concentrate more on the structure of the dialect rather than reproducing it phonetically which, let’s face it, can be a bit subjective. What sounds like a Geordie accent to you might not to someone else. So I suggest a light touch. Just add the odd phrase here and there that suggests the accent.
Using an American accent seems like an easy option because we hear so much of it on television but remember that Americans often use entirely different words from us and these can trip you up, leading to a lack of authenticity. Using an example from a story I had published recently, “You make sure and tell them to work hard at school, I figure that’s the best advice you can give them right now.” We would never say figure but it is part of American everyday speech.
If your character is Scottish, don’t go down the route of having them talk in clichés like the old, “Braw brit moonlit nicht” stuff. Instead look out for the things that are peculiar to the accent. Scots would add “right enough” at the end of the sentence by way of affirmation. “She’s a good looking girl, right enough.” It just gives the flavour of an accent without over egging the pudding.
And talking of puddings, the proof is in the eating of course, and the majority of the stories I have sold have featured at least one character with an accent.
My final tip would be, once you have written your dialogue, always speak it aloud. Even if you can’t do the accent, speak it anyway. It’s amazing how different it sounds and how many faults can be spotted that way.
But most of all enjoy it. Using an accent can be fun, just don’t overdo it. Or as we would say here in Birmingham, “Take it easy, Bab.”
The story sounds intriguing:
“It’s 1981 and the recession is biting hard. The summer of riots, a Royal wedding and things have turned sour for Julie Reynolds in London. She is forced to return to Birmingham where she has no choice but to live with her ailing, irascible communist father, Fred in ‘The Little Kremlin’. On her return to the working class Kingsbury Estate where she grew up, she is quickly drawn into the lives of her old neighbours, people she had tried to leave behind. But sometimes it is impossible to leave things behind….like secrets for instance.”
I was 18 in 1981 and remember it well so I’m going over to Amazon now, whilst the book’s still half the price of a takeaway coffee, and perhaps I’ll learn how to make the heroine of my next story talk like a Brummie!