Just wondering how some of you guys do this. What I mean is, when you write dialog for a character with a certain accent, do you actually write the dialog phonetically so the reader will sort of hear the accent in their head or do you just write the dialog as you normally would, but maybe toss in a few colloquialisms to remind the reader that the character has an accent? I'm going to add a British character who is an LAPD officer to the short story series that I write and would love to hear some advice on the subject. Thanks.

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I've been thinking much about this recently. An Indian man works with me and I've really started paying attention to his speech, trying to figure out how I would present an Indian character. The accent isn't what I would focus on now, it would be his use of the English language. For instance, he would say "I find difficulty trying to understand you," where I would say "I find it difficult to understand you."

You heard his accent, right?

Also, watch the social site replies from people from other countries. On twitter, here, facebook, in their short stories too, you'll find their "accent". I follow quite a few Brits, and they use interesting words. Only one or two jump at me in one of their storis, but it's enough for me to read the rest of the story with their accent in my head. They are writing in their accent, so you could model your character by reading how they write.
Good point. As for the Indian accent, I remember thinking that Keating was superb of rendering Anglo-Indian for his Inspector Ghote novels (Oh, so much better than his new "detective" series).
That's a pretty good tip, Peggy. I have noticed that you can sometimes tell where someone is from just by how they write.
I have a fairly good ear for dialogue and some accents. I've picked up some Britishisms from reading John Harvey and others. I do, in fact, hear the accent in my head, and it becomes the the character's voice. I learned from when I used to write plays to no overdo it, especially in phonetic orthography. I think the rhythm of the speech is more important than anything else. There's no reason to try to be phonetically exact, because the result is usually to make the reader stop and figure things out; that, you don't want. Learn to listen. In my memoir, Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, The Sixties and a Journey of Self Discovery, the use of black English and Southern white idioms actually made it possible to remember things I would not have otherwise done.
You're opening a can of worms here, Bill. We live on a small island but the variations in accents are amazing. My own novels are set near Aberdeen, Scotland and when I gave some of my cops local accents in the first one, my editor made me tone them down because, as she said, no one would understand them south of the border (or even elsewhere in Scotland). The problem then is, if you deprive a character of his/her true voice, it alters who they are. I actually blogged about it, pointing out that asking someone if they want a drink in my home town, Plymouth, England, would sound like 'Wobbe gwain ev?' whereas in Aberdeen it's 'Fitchy for?' Good luck.
Thanks. I've opted to just throw in a few British slang terms, no phonetically pronounced dialog. The character has been a street cop in L.A. for a few years, so I figure that though he may have kept his accent, for the most part he's gonna sound like the rest of us out here, save for starting all of his sentences with "dude". ;)
Hi Guys, this is really interesting. In my storyline I have a young Russian wife living in Australia who marries v well. I thought that if I threw one little word into her dialogue, it would set the tone for her accent. Thus - "She immediately put on her sad little pout and asked “What are you doing home again? And Da I am feeling a little better”. From what you are saying here I should just say "And yes I am feeling a little better". The dilemma would be how to make her sound like a young woman who left Russia only three years ago Any Ideas?.
I like the Da; dropping into the natural tongue works well for reminding the reader of an accent. I don't think it's out of bounds for the character to have to search for a word, either.

I once wrote a German character who spoke excellent English, but with an accent. I didn't want to mess with his speech much, as I had already described his English as fluent, but I wanted to remind the reader there was an accent there, so i inserted someone along these lines:

German: What these people need is--how do you say it?--ubervachong.

PI: Supervision?

German: Ja. Supervision.

At the end, as he's dying and begging for help, he slips back into German altogether. ("Hilfen sie mir. Bitte.) The reader may not understand every word, but they'll get the drift in context.
Okay, that's pretty good, but it helps to get a bit of input on foreign words or phrases. :) I do German, if you ever need a second opinion.
Thanks for your feedback Dana, I have a Dutch friend who although v fluent in English, she still says Ja & Nee, esp when excited. Thanks also for the hint of the character searching for a word, that could work very well, in fact you have given me an idea for a whole new scene. Oh finally !! some enthusiasm for more writing. So your book with the dying German, did you finish it?
Thanks I.J. I don't suppose you do Russian, I have to research the dialogue on an 'Urban Russian language site', just to get a sense of casual urban conversation.
No, sorry. No Russian. And I could have used someone good in French a year ago. Mine is rusty. This is not a bad place to ask for some input. People have all sorts of talents.
If anyone is interested, this is the story I wrote featuring the character...



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