Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Accent-tual Dialogue

by Linda Robertson

Hey y'all! Happy May!

I grew up in Ohio with family from regions south. Sometimes folks ask me if I'm from West Virgina. I don't think I have much of an accent, though I know I've adopted a few words and phrases that reveal the family tree. 

That said, I've always liked listening to the lilt of people's accents. I've had friends from Wisconsin who sounded similar to folks I knew in Canada at the little camp ground we visited when I was a kid. I've visited places where the accents are undeniable, South Ca-lina and Gaw-ja, I'm talking about you.

I like trying to talk in different accents. And while yes this includes the distinctive tones of Sarcasm and Pirate, I am mostly refering to actual location-specific tones. My handsome fella lived in Italy for a few years and had acquaintances from Ireland. He can mimic those accents quite convincingly. My son does a pretty good rendition of Cockney and he and I spent a whole day being 'British' on our vacation. At least we did until the younger son decided to out us on the boardwalk by shouting, "Will you two STOP that? WE. ARE. AMERICANS!"

I say all that to say this: I love accents. And yes, I use them in my books. Here are two examples: 

(#5 Persephone Alcmedi series)

     A tall woman appeared in the doorway. She had short, spiky black hair and a beautiful oval face that didn’t have a brush of makeup on it. Because Zhan usually wore business casual, I had expected similar of the new sentinel. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
     Ivanka wore a khaki green T-shirt and military fatigues. Add combat boots and a handgun on each hip, and the zero-percent-body-fat military bodyguard ensemble was complete. Her muscular shoulders and bulging arms dominated her appearance. She had a single backpack and a stuffed GNC bag.
     It was shitty of me, but I couldn’t help wondering if she’d ever been part of some Russian super-soldier experiment.
     “Erus Veneficus Persephone Alcmedi, this is Ivanka Chernov. Ivanka, this is your E.V.”
     Ivanka sat her bags on the floor, lowered herself to one knee and bowed her head. Then she stood and mimed shooting a gun. “I have ninety-eight-point-four percent accuracy with revolver.” Her accent was thick. “I have black belt and run mile in three minutes, forty-two seconds.”
     “That’s all very impressive, Ivanka.”
     She pointed at the nutrition store bag. “I fix own meals, and clean up. I sleep little, talk less. All I ask is three personal hours every day for strength training. This work for you?”
     “Yes. You’ll do just fine.”

EXCERPT from SHATTERED CIRCLE (#6 Persephone Alcmedi series)
     "What are you doing here?” Johnny asked Jacques Lippencot Plympton.
     In the meager light from a slightly opened curtain, the diviza’s wrinkles deepened as he squinted. “Because I’ve heard me a rumor.”
     “What rumor?”
     “That our dear Aurelia has joined the ranks of the dead.”
     Johnny didn’t answer. He didn’t even move.
     Plympton sat forward and rubbed his hands together.
     “Betcha you’re a-wonderin’ who told me.”
     The moment wore on in silence, then Plympton laughed.
     “Well, c’mon in, m’boy. We have oodles to discuss...and besides, you’re a-lettin’ the draft in. I’m not fond of your northern November weather.”
     Johnny reached for the light switch.
     Plympton made a sound, one decidedly disapproving note, that stopped him. “Better to leave the lights off.”
     “You’ll have been seen a-entering the hotel. If these lights come on, that’ll only confirm that you’ve a-come to her room while she’s out.”
     Johnny let the door shut behind him but he stayed near it. “Who’s watching this room?” As he spoke he sensed around the room. No one else was here. His eyes had already adjusted to the darkness.
     “Maybe several people.” Plympton shrugged. “Maybe
no one.”
     “Why would anyone watch her room?”
     As the diviza sat back in his chair, he was again in the slightly brighter portion of the room. It made his hair seem like a ghostly halo about his head. “Some like to watch lovely women. Some keep an eye on their friends. Some monitor their enemies. Others enjoy a-studying the ways of shit-stirrers like her.”

Now I think the key to using accents, in written form, is to keep it natural, simple and clear. You're telling a story and you don't want your reader to stop their continuous scan to try and decipher just what it is the character is saying. An accent is a layer of a character, something that helps define them like an accessory. Use it enough for the reader to understand this is a part of who the character is, but use it sparingly enough that it doesn't overwhelm the reader or override the character. If the reader gets the gist of what you're giving them, they will hear the accent in their head when that character speaks. If that's the case, you've done your job.

1 comment:

  1. Johnny *sigh* makes me want to go re-read your series reading those snippets. Oh yeah, and the accents were great too :)