How to Write With an Accent

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A version of this article was originally posted March, 2012. We've updated it with new information.

Liz here! Greetings from the Lone Star State! I'm taking a week off work and spending it in Houston and Austin visiting some dear friends. In honor of this trip, we're taking a detour off our regular defined path of grammatical bliss.

We should all know by now how important spelling and grammar and punctuation are for a writer. There is an exception, however: writing with a dialect. Since I'm in Texas, let's take a trip down the southern-accent highway.

Write With An Accent

Photo by Mike Fisher

Mark Twain is probably the best known example of an author writing with an accent. Anyone who spent any time at all in a high school English class is probably familiar with the story of Huckleberry Finn, which centers around a less-than-educated teenager and an even-less-educated runaway slave.

One of the marks of Twain's storytelling is the inclusion of the Mississippi River dialect in the dialogue of Huck Finn and his other characters:

Well, I did. I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to it. Honest INJUN, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum–but that don't make no difference. I ain't a-going to tell, and I ain't a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le's know all about it.

How to Research Your Characters' Dialects

If you're writing dialogue for a character with an accent, you can use creative spelling and punctuation to add flavor to your prose and give your audience a sense of where the characters come from.

Your characters may use specific words or phrasings that are unfamiliar to you. Here are three ways to research your characters' dialects:

1. Read Dialect Surveys

Like this one. Just select a phrase your character might use and the city the live in and find out how he or she speaks.

2. Take a Trip

If you don't live in the region your character does, take a trip and research the dialect in person. While there, eavesdrop on conversations and take as many notes as you can.

3. Read Other Books With the Same Accent

Great writers are always great readers, and by reading other books written with with the same accent you're striving for, you'll save yourself time and better capture the tone and voice of your characters.

Enjoy strolling off the beaten path of grammatical accuracy!

Have you ever written in an accent?

PRACTICE

Pick a region of the US (or country of your choice) that is known for a specific accent or dialect. Write for fifteen minutes using that voice in your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Post your practice in the comments, and be sure to comment on your fellow writers' practices.

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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42 Comments

  1. LarryBlumen

    One way of conveying accents is to mimic the sounds of someone’s speech. For some dialects, that can sound patronizing. Another way is to mimic the phrasing—the way someone talks. I took your 15 minute exercise and came up with this:

    Dade County Blues

    “C’mon Curtis—it’s time to go next door.”
    At first, I thought it was my mama calling me, but then I realized again where I was.
    I said, “Damn, woman, leave me alone.”
    She said, “You know you got to go. Get up off your ugly behind.”
    I said, “I’m not going this time. Tell ‘em I’m not going.”
    She said, “I’m not gonna open the cell until you stand up.”
    I said, “Good,” and rolled over in my bunk, facing the wall.
    She said, “Curtis.”
    I waited for the bitch to say something else, but she didn’t, so I just let her be.
    She said, “Curtis.”
    I waited some more, but the bitch still didn’t say nothing, so I said, “What?”
    She said, “You know what.”
    I said, “I don’t know a damn thing.”
    She said, “Doctor Belden is waiting for you.”
    I said, “Tell him I can’t make it this time.”
    She said, “Curtis—it’s just a stupid blood test. You get one every month, and every time you kick up the same fuss.”
    I rolled back over and said, “I can’t take needles.”
    She said, “You had one last month.”
    I said, “That’s when I found out I can’t take ‘em.”
    She said, “How many times have we gone through this?”
    I said, “Too many—I’m too old for needles.”
    She said, “How are we gonna know if your blood’s gone bad?”
    I said, “There’s nothing wrong with my blood.”
    She said, “You don’t know that—your blood could be going bad right now.”
    I said, “I thought bad blood came from dealin’ with people.”
    She said, “It does.”
    I said, “Where am I gonna get bad blood in here?”
    She just stood there, looking at me.
    I said, “Watch out, woman—I don’t play that.”
    She said, “Don’t make me get a man back here.”
    I said, “Go ahead—get two of ‘em. I don’t care.”
    She just stood there.
    She said, “Curtis.”

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      I like the back and forth rhythm there. It seems realistic to me.

      Reply
      • LarryBlumen

        Thanks, Marianne.

        When I first wrote this out, I was thinking about illustrating the point I was making about writing accents. After I posted it, I read it over and tried to figure out what it was—it didn’t sound like a poem, but it was too short to be a story. Then it occurred to me that the whole thing was wrapped up in Curtis’s first thought (he could have been nodding off) that his mother was calling him. Even though he’s in jail, Curtis is having this conversation with his mama, and the woman is talking to her child.

        Reply
        • Marianne Vest

          I got that from it and I think it says a lot about his personality too.

          Reply
    • Winnie

      I can hear, and almost see, Momma from this exchange. The dialogue does have a rhythm to it. The talk about ‘bad blood’ mark them as coming from a certain region. Found this convincing.

      Reply
      • LarryBlumen

        Thanks, Winnie. I submitted this sketch to an online literary journal and it was rejected. The first editor liked it. The second editor said it wasn’t a story. And the third editor said there were too many “saids”.

        So I went back and wrote a story around the piece that continued the theme of a mama and child going back and forth with each other. I haven’t resubmitted it yet, but I’m going to.

        Reply
    • LarryBlumen

      After I wrote this exercise, I submitted it to the Red Fez Literary Journal. The editors there rejected it, saying it wasn’t much of a story, and, anyway, it had too many “saids” in it.

      I put it on the shelf for a while, but recently took it up again. It seemed to me that the female guard was talking to Curtis the way she would have talked to her own children, and that Curtis was responding the way he would have responded to his own mama. So I wrote the rest of the story, elaborating on that theme, and resubmitted it to the Fez. They accepted it this time and it appears in Issue 60, released today.

      http://www.redfez.net/fiction/545/0

      *

      Reply
  2. Marianne Vest

    “Get that damn cat outta here right this minute, and I don’t mean maybe, Bree.”

    “Why Mama? She ain’t hurtin’ nothin’.”

    “Animal’s belong outside is all. Get her out. We ain’t livin’ in a barn.”

    Bree’s eyes filled with tears. The white cat rubbed against Mama’s legs and purred. Her eyes were a beautiful golden-green.

    “But it’s so cold out Ma. She’ll freeze to death.”

    “She’s skinny, probably has worms. How’d you like get worms. Cats will give you ringworms and all other kinds of worms?”

    “I’ll take her to the vet with my babysitting money. How much it cost to go to the vet?”

    “Probably all the money you got.”

    “It’s okay, I’ll do it. I don’t want her to die.”

    “Well then . . .huh,” Mama stops to pet the cat. The cat purrs louder. “Go on and take her upstairs and don’t tell you daddy about her. I don’t have the energy to go around with him tonight.”

    “I’m gonna name her Snowy.”

    “Snowy, who ever heard of such a thing? Cats are named Muffin or Chessy.” Mama put her hands on her hips.

    “Yeah Muffin, that’s good.” Bree knew when to give up. “Come on Muffin, my room’s upstairs. I have a pink bedspread. You’ll like that I bet.”

    The cat didn’t say a word, but found a warm spot where the sun shone on the pink chenille spread and made it her own.

    Reply
    • Nancy

      What I like about this is that I hear the accent without having to guess what you are saying from unusual spelling. That’s what I would love to do in my WIP.

      Reply
      • Marianne Vest

        Thanks Nancy. I felt sort of disrespectful to the characters as I wrote it, like I was making fun of them.

        Reply
        • James Hall

          That is a natural feeling when imitating. It’s also a natural response to imitating. Working with a guy, a good friend, and I LOVED his accent. He was a real teaser, too, but for a while I teased him back by imitating his accent. I did so very accurately too. I did that for a few days, and then, one day, he got really mad about it.

          I found out later that their were a few other key elements in the outburst, but there you have it.

          Reply
    • LarryBlumen

      I agree with Nancy’s comment about hearing the accents from what is being said, rather than how. You have written an excellent example of the point that I was trying to make.

      Reply
      • Marianne Vest

        Thanks Larry.

        Reply
      • James Hall

        – What is being said
        – The words chosen
        – The order of the words chosen
        – Misspellings and tick mark.

        These seem to be the major ways of creating a realistic dialect. I find misspellings and tick marks to be like sugar: they influence the dialog easily, but if you get a too much, it can ruin it just as quickly.

        Reply
        • LarryBlumen

          I prefer to convey accents by what is being said—the words, phrases and expressions.

          Reply
          • James Hall

            Me too. Although my list is not necessarily in order of preference, there is a reason misspellings and accent marks are last.

            One thing that is really important for dialog and accents is consistency. Yur dialog can turn cheesy very quickly if ya start changin’ it al’of a sudden.

            Right now, I’m right a story-in-a-story set it a fantasy world. The story teller is a dwarf. I wrote the two chapters, about 30 pages each, narrated by me. Now, I am truly considering rewriting the enter thing in medieval-sounding dialog. Fortunately, beside being more realistic, the opportunity to develop the story telling character are more natural. Unfortunately, medieval dialog can be really hard to achieve, and I feel I have to give up several of my adjectives and detail.

            Hopefully, after writing 60 pages of medieval dialog, it will get easier. Time to go do more research and expand my medieval vocabulary.

  3. Suzie Gallagher

    “Ow much int’ Manchester, mate?”
    “Two pond eighty, lass”
    “Ee that’s good, yer wouldn’t get t’ th’end o our street for that, back ‘ome”
    “C’mon so lass, I’ll tek thee allus way”
    “ta very much, mate”

    This is so hard, not to think or speak in dialect but how to write it down so someone else can understand what has been said. Because it is so obviously not US, I offer a translation:
    “How much into Manchester, busdriver?”
    “Two pounds eighty, young lady”
    “Well that is good value, you would not get to the end of the street for that, back home”
    “Come along young lady and I will take you all the way”
    “Thank you kindly, busdriver”

    The saddest bit, I have travelled across the water from Ireland to look after my sick parent for a few days. And this conversation really did happen between the bus driver and I. My accent reverted back to the cobblestones of Lancashire as if I hadn’t emigrated more than twenty years ago. No one will understand me when I arrive back in Kerry!

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      That is an interesting accent. I think you could just use some words like “lass” and “mate” and make the same point. Most of us recognize some basic British slang. I read a lot of British murder mysteries when I was young and I think it was because I love that kind of speech, but it can be hard to understand when spoken.

      Reply
    • kew

      Spot on, Suzie! Loved this.

      Reply
  4. Nancy

    Thank you for this post, I have been dreading this topic as I reach the Bahamas section of my WIP. Please read below and tell me about parsing. How much accent is too much? Where should a writer stop????

    Cole and Des discovered how much they had in common during their daily lunch breaks. They talked family as well as business.

    “How much progress do you think the Bahamas has made since your brother passed?”

    “Some. Not enough. ” replied Des. “But traffickin’ goes in cycles. You never know what’s next. Right now da marijuana trade is down, but the shippin’ and storin’ continue. Normally cartels dey doon process drugs on de Islands, only stash it for awhile. Now dere come a glut a cocaine so da price drop everywhere, and dealers in Florida doon buy so much. Our warehouses be stockpiled. Over flow. Drug dealers canna sell so much powder on de Islands. Den dey learn about crack. Dey make it. Dey sell it to locals. Dat’s when my brudda meet Mr. Blow.” Desmond paused at the mention of his brother.

    “So cheap. Everyone affords it. Even poor Bahamians. It seem even my brudda-unemployed- fine a few dollars for de hit.”

    “He got addicted right away?”

    “Fast. We see him get angry and nervous. Snatching money from my mudda and when she doon have no, he be screamin’ at her til she cry. Den he gets da coke bugs and be scratch’ all da day. Before we know, he be gone. Gone.”

    “I’m so sorry.”

    Reply
    • LarryBlumen

      Nancy,

      Your piece is good—it shows the opposite of my point: you can mimic the way a person speaks and make it work. Dropping the g’s makes Des sound like he’s from the islands to me. And this sentence—”Now dere come a glut… and dealers in Florida doon buy so much”—sounds authentic. Your use of “den” and “dey” sounds real, too. I’m wondering if Des would use the word “marijuana” instead of something more colloquial—maybe he would, to a non-islander. My ear-memory tells me that “Usually” might be a better choice than “Normally” where you used it.

      The only problem I see with this approach is that it might distract readers. When I read something written in dialect, I’m forced to impersonate the character in my head. It doesn’t seem so distracting if the words are all from the dictionary, but the word and phrase choices and their rhythms convey the character’s accent and way of speaking. You might try writing your piece that way (keeping the dropped g’s) and see if Des’s accent is still conveyed or not.

      Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      I think it has an authentic sound, obviously it’s a Caribbean accent, and who doens’t like that accent?

      Reply
  5. Barb

    Anyone want to guess the denizen of these dames?

    “Where does your mom work, again?”

    “My mother STILL works at an office dahntahn.”

    “Don’t be a jag-off. I though she was working in E-sliberty.”

    “No. My Mom works for an office supply company. Ya know, they sell pens, paper, gum bands… Help me red up the kitchen before she gets home. There’s a wooshrag on the counter. And hang up your coat in the hall cupboard or Mario and Bus will get fur all over it.”

    “I’ll help you clean but I need some rubber gloves. My hands got all scraped up and the water stings.”

    “How did that happen?”

    “I dropped my keys in the jagger bush in the parking lot outside Gian Iggle and they got scratched when I dug them out.”

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      Wow that was like reading A Clock-work orange. It’s interesting but was hard for me to follow. Of course in a full length work you would have more information to help understand the dialogue.

      Reply
    • liz

      Oh my gosh, it does my heart so good to see a Pittsburgh dialect replicated on this site.

      Reply
  6. Beck Gambill

    My novel is set in the south, and I’m southern, but I gave up writing in dialect early on. I was afraid my creative spelling would be confusing and distracting. I love it in books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it makes the book, but I didn’t feel up to the challenge!

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      I don’t write with accents either Beck. I did it for this exercise and I have for really short pieces (like 500 word or so) but I can’t do it for long, I confuse myself.

      Reply
  7. Stacy A

    I LOVE accents and dialects! (I should’ve been a linguist.) My current WIP employs both Texan (BTW, there are actually several different dialects within Texas …) and New Zealand-ish (I think it’s called Newzild — I just call it Kiwi.)

    I’m not leaving off all the g’s at the end of -ing words because, well, it would get incredibly annoying. I am using “gonna” and “wanna” and “oughta,” etc.

    Oddly, there are a lot of similarities, in that both dialects tend to leave off the g’s, and use the gonna/wanna/oughta type words.

    Not going too heavy on the Texan, because these days a lot of Texas teens sound like they’re from Middle-America-dialect-land. NPR interviewed some kids from Wimberly, Texas, which is south of Austin and not far from where I live. They sounded like they were from California even though most of them were native Texans. So my Texas characters use a lot of “y’all” and “fixin’ ta,” but they don’t sound hick by any stretch. (True in real life, BTW, at least around the cities.)

    What’s really fun is that my Kiwi character moves to Texas when he’s 11, so by the time he’s a teenager and adult he’s throwing “y’all” in with his Kiwi-isms. Something like, “Are y’all serious? Mates, that is so sweet as! I’ve been looking forward to this for yonks, ay? I was fixin’ to give up, but looks like it’s gonna work a treat!”

    Hee!

    And my Texas girl, who becomes best mates with the Kiwi boy right away, throws a lot of Kiwi stuff into her Texan by virtue of just hanging around him so much. “Yeah, Phil is so totally my best mate. It’s so abso-flamin’-lutely awesome that his family moved here, ay? But Travis … he’s a complete mess, y’all. I don’t know what we’re gonna do about him. He is a torn-down piece.”

    My first serious attempt at writing a novel involved people from Northern Ireland. I tried using spelling (transliterations) to get the brogue across, but it got to be pretty heavy and hard to decode. I mean, you can only handle so much “Pleased to meetcha. I’m from Norn Iron, so. Would you be handin’ me my camera and those rolls o’ fillum, then?” Uh uh.

    So, generally speaking, I think using idiom, colloquialisms, that sort of stuff is the best way to go. Whatever gets the point across but is still easy for the reader.

    Cheers, mates!
    Stacy A

    Reply
  8. R.w. Foster

    Angriz and I approached the Vaush-tauric’s home early the next morning. We were met by someone other than Soo-jau. She had a different scent and a lighter tread.

    “Welcome tae Lady Soo-jau’s home,” a euphonious feminine voice said.

    ‘Wait a moment. I recognize that accent,’ I thought. ‘The speaker is Gaelic!’

    Ignorant of my inner consternation, Angriz replied, “Thank you, Keeper Dearbhaile. This silent one beside me is-”

    Cutting in she said, “Carter Blake. My mistress told me much of ye.”

    “You’re Gaelic,” I blurted.

    “Gaeilge atá tú?”

    “Huh?”

    “I’m sorry. I said, ‘Are ye Gaelic?’ I thought that ye might be.”

    “No, I recognize the brogue.”

    Keeper Dearbhaile giggled. “A gift from me mother. She be from Éire.”

    I recognized the old name of the country I knew as Ireland. “Der va la?” I said. “That is a lovely sounding name.”

    “Thank ye. That pronunciation be excellent, Laird Blake! No one else evair gotten it right on the firs’ go.”

    “When did your mother leave Éire?”

    “In 1125 AD.”

    Reply
  9. MishaBurnett

    In my opinion, less is more when writing any specialized dialogue for a character. Trying to transliterate a dialect exactly makes it hard to read, and unless your intent is to portray a character as incomprehensible, an occasional dropped final consonant will get the idea across just fine.

    Word choice and sentence structure are what makes a character’s dialog memorable, and while that will be shaped by a character’s background, it’s also very individual.

    Knowing the structure of a dialect, patois, or pigeon will let you suggest the voice and your reader will “hear” the right voice. For example, Russian does not use articles, and a lot of native Russian speakers tend to omit them when speaking English. If you read a line of dialogue like “Now you get car,” your mind tends to automatically supply the Russian accent.

    Reply
    • Winnie

      Tend to agree with ‘less is more’ as I find I spend too much time trying to make sense of the dialogue.

      Reply
  10. Janey Egerton

    Here’s a short extract from my WIP. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because the dialect that my girls speak is more characterised by a very specific accent, so I’m using creative spelling. But I’ve been afraid that readers who don’t know what the accent sounds like will not be able to get it. I’m curious what you think. Is the spelling too creative?

    ————————————-

    The next afternoon, Alice decided to go to Kelly without waiting for an answer. They had been the best friends since their early childhood, and she was not going to let Kelly forget that each time that somebody new entered Kelly’s life.

    Alice knocked on the kitchen door, hoping Kelly would be alone at home and they could have a long uninterrupted conversation. She was about to bite on her nails out of nervousness when Kelly opened the door. For a second, Kelly looked a bit flustered, but then she smiled faintly, and Alice kissed her on both cheeks and hugged her while she said, “Hiya, love. Did ye ge’ ma mail?”

    “Yeah, sorry… A’ve been doo’n so much for school lately,” answered Kelly. “And Ah wanted to go to Glesga todaeh.”

    “Oh, come on. I havnae seen’ye ‘nages. Let’s hang oo’ for a while,” said Alice, holding Kelly’s hand and striking her long blond hair with the other hand. “Giv’ye the makeawver I had promised.”

    “Yeah, ‘bou’ tha’…” said Kelly, letting Alice’s hand go and closing the door. “Cut’n ma heer or ge’ing a new colour… Ye knaw A’m no’ tha’ kinda lass.”

    “Do i’ for your best frehnd. I need to ge’ some practice. Ar’ye ready t’ discover the new Kelly?”

    “The new Kelly?” asked Kelly. “What’s wrong with the auld one?”

    “Nothing, it’s just… Wai’, are ye cryin’?”

    “No, it’s nothing, A’m just tired,” said Kelly, rubbing her eyes quickly to conceal her tears.

    But Alice had seen the tears and hugged Kelly before she had had time to say anything else. And one minute later she was kissing Kelly on the lips.

    “Oh, ma gawd,” said Kelly, pushing Alice away. “That’s why ye’re constantly touching me, sayin’ tha’ A’m gorgeous. Ye’re gaeh.”

    “No, A’m no’,” said Alice.

    “Why did you kiss me, then?” cried Kelly. “Ge’ oo’!”

    “Bu’… OK, I’m gaeh! Happy now? And Ah love yoo!”

    Reply
  11. Robert

    I haven’t tried writing with an accent much, but here is a short exerpt …

    “Ollie, throw me the rake.”

    “Hee ya ahhh, Mr. Dawrrty?”

    “Thanks Ollie, and please call me Rod, which is short for
    Roderick, kind of like Ollie is short for Oliver.”

    “It ain’t, Mr. Dawrrty, I’m a gal, dare’s no Oliver in maa
    name sir.”

    She’s a spunky one, I thought, and Wally – short for Walter
    – would have liked her.

    Reply
  12. The Striped Sweater

    It vas a lonk day for me, and I don’t haff much time, but here is my Zherman accent.

    Reply
    • Jay Warner

      Love it!

      Reply
  13. randomyriad

    Maddy B. slid on into the Drifters Reef Casino just off of the seedy strip that was the main drag in a little speck of a town, a couple of bars, two cheap motels, a grocery store, and a few fast food places.

    “Hey girl! Whatchoo doin’ this fine day? You lookin’ off the charts,” Reggie the
    bouncer, all muscle and easy slouch, addressed her with a nod and a smile.

    “Jus’ looking for Debbie. She make it in today?”

    “That is yo’ Momma you talkin’ ‘bout, right? You oughta call her momma or my mom or somethin’ seems like.”

    “Is she here?” Maddy said with a little edge. “My Mom that is,” she corrected at Reggie’s look of disapproval.

    “I’ll get her. You know you not sposed to be in there unless you aged since las’ I seen ya.”

    “Yeh, now I’m 21 so you gotta let me in right?”

    “ I get her. You wait out here with the rest of the jail bate.”

    Maddy stuck her tongue out at him and crossed her eyes and then spread a wide fake-sweet smile.

    “Some day I’m o take a picture of that face,” he said walking away into the bar. “Then you be sorry.”

    Maddy paced a little in the entryway next to the phones and newspaper rack.

    “I thought I told you not to come ‘round here. You know Marty don’t like it when I leave the table, and he don’t like kids ‘round neither.” Her mother moved out of the darkness, thin and chesty with bleached blonde bangs. She talked fast and twangy.
    “I’m sorry if my life interferes with your job, Debbie. But, a girl’s gotta eat, and there is nothing at home but cookies and beer. I need twenty to shop for a coupla days.”
    “I’m sorry honey. Momma’s been busy. Here go get some stuff.” She pulled a bill out of her pocket, handed it to Maddie then snatched it back.

    “ But, don’t go gettin’ no junk. No sodas or candy. Jes sandwich stuff. I don’t like
    you cookin’ when I’m not there.”

    “I am fifteen, an’ I cook better’an you anyway.” Maddy grabbed the twenty and ran. “See ya later.”

    “I leftya a note. You better read it!” Debbie called after her.

    “I will if I can,” Maddy shouted back without turning.

    Debbie followed her down the street with her eyes. Her face tightened a little, shaking her head as she turned and took a slow breath.

    “That girl’s a firecracker,” Reggie said smiling paternally as Debbie passed him on her way back to her table.

    “Yeh, she’s gonna set the world on fire, she don’t look out,” she said over her shoulder.

    Reply
  14. Winnie

    This incident happened to me not too long ago. (‘Not too long ago’- is that a few hours, months, or years ago? Or is it as long ago as within living memory? I leave that to you to work out.)
    The sketch shows that it’s not only the accent, but the way of thinking as well that identifies somebody as from a certain part of the country. Or world. Here distance is not measured in miles.

    “How far to the mission?”
    “Is not far.” The man on the side of the road gestured to the hills in the distance
    with his hand.
    “How many miles?” we asked.
    “Is near.” He motioned, showing it was just over a nearby hill.
    We looked dubiously down the dusty track.
    “Wait.I come with and I show you.”
    Grinning, he joined us in the car. Well might he be pleased, I thought. It was a typical scorching summer day in Africa. Travelling in a car, sitting in the back with someone driving you, was a luxury undreamt of in his part of the world.
    We dropped him off at his destination. “Thank you ver’ much.” He clapped his hands together in appreciation.
    “How far to the mission,” we asked one last time. So far his ‘not far’ had been over an hour’s driving.
    “Not far,” he assured us, still grinning at the windfall that had saved him how many hours of walking. Leaving him on the side of the road near a collection of huts we continued.
    We eventually arrived at our destination, three hours and twenty miles later. I
    timed it. It hadn’t been possible to travel any faster on the track that barely
    qualified as a road.
    Someone at the mission explained to us. ‘Not far’ meant within a day’s walk. ‘Far,’ accompanied with a shake of the head meant more than a day’s journey. ‘Very far,’ with a vigorous shake of the head and a clucking of the tongue, meant you’d have to take a few buses to get there.

    Reply
    • Jay Warner

      great use of dialogue accompanied with cultural miscues. I can really feel how they are communicating in their own way, even if the definition of “far” is not clear.

      Reply
      • Winnie

        Thanks very much, Jay.

        Reply
  15. Dan Erickson

    Woody Guthrie was also an expert at writing with an accent. Check out Bound for Glory, Seeds of Man, and House of Earth. In my second book, At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy, the protagonist studies and uses a southern accent as part of his cover. Learn more at http://www.danerickson.net/?page_id=3637.

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  16. Rebecca Foy

    I watched the blizzard from my kitchen table, revelin’ in the way the snowflakes fell down like pieces int’ place. If only life were like that, I thought.
    It chilled me, though, t’ watch the cold wind blow ’round like that. A sip of my steamin’ coffee warmed me up right quick. My coffee was “white,” as Pap used to say. He liked his like that, too– with so much cream and milk in it, it’s almost as pale as fog on a Halloween night. Maybe that was why he and I got along so well, ‘cos we both liked the same things. We both loved old books, and int’restin’ arguments, and cold win’er days, and letters. Ah, letters. ‘S been s’ long since I got one, I almost forget the feelin’ of openin’ one. It’s magical, ya know. Yer hands shake with anticipation as you rip away the seal, and that awful stench o’ the glue and stiff stationary fills yer nose.
    As fate would have it, o’ course, it was just as I was thinkin’ about this that The Letter arrived.

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  17. Pradeep

    This is a very interesting topic. Though I personally dislike reading stories written with accents, when I write short stories, I often wish I could have my way with this. But after writing two pages, the dialogues become so ludicrous that I decide to scrap it and start over without any accents.

    The reason? In our country, we have approximately 720 dialects. Each of them influences its natives’ non-native tongue in its own way (not only by accents, but also by grammatical and phonetic idiosyncrasies). Which means there are at least as many spoken-English-styles here. If I ever try spicing up my short stories by adding some of those subtle nuances of dialectical influences on the English language, I’d have to include an appendix for reference. And if I did that, why, even I wouldn’t read my next story. 😀

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  1. Writing Links – Best of the web, 3/12-16 | Ladies Who Critique - [...] 2.       How to Write With an Accent – TheWritePractice.com [...]
  2. Monday Must-Reads [07/15/13] - YESENIA VARGAS - [...] How to Write With an Accent | The Write Practice [...]

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