Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Your Characters Speak Your Language

One of the most difficult accomplishments in writing is to get a certain character’s dialect and accent correct.
When you include foreign characters in your story, it’s imperative that your reader know they have an accent relative to the country or locale from which they hail.
Be attentive to these nuances or all your characters will sound like you. An author who is not a linguist or grammarian may have a certain limited capability at using the English language. Without expanding your knowledge or simply using a Thesaurus, you will find yourself repeating the same words and phrases over and over.
Let’s take the example of a foreign accent. Your character’s manner of speech will be greatly affected by the way you describe that person and the nuances of the country of their birth. Say you’ve set up your character as being from France. Maybe he dresses in fine French clothes, is real dapper and has European table manners. Beyond that, have him use French phrases like mon cherie in the course of his dialogue.
Foreign phrases you attach to your character should be fairly well known to the general public. These phrases both immediately give the reader the character’s flavor of speech; it also lets the reader skim smoothly over the foreign phrase by imagining an accent, and stay in the story.
Including a phrase that not too many people have heard makes the reader pause to try to understand. That is something you do not want to happen.
When writing in English, the author must still assure that all characters have their own manner of speaking.
A cowboy has a laid-back southern drawl, as in “I ain’t into office work,  ma’am. I ride horses.” Can you hear him speak?
The African man who made it to the Olympics has an Nigerian accent that no one understands. Yet, when he’s marching with all the other athletes, carrying his country’s flag and yells his country’s motto while pumping a fist into the air, we know exactly what he means.
The Latino from south of the border speaks broken English interspersed with his home area colloquialisms and politely calls women Senora or Senorita.
These are but a few examples of unique characters who must sound different. Each would be enhanced by the way the author introduces them into the story.
The cowboy always wears boots, even with a tuxedo.
The African man plays his drums because he misses home, but doesn’t want to miss a chance at the Olympics either.
The Latino does his own cooking because he can’t get real authentic south-of-the-border cooking at a restaurant.
When you develop your characters well, many times, even their simplest conversations will appear to the reader as being spoken with some sort of accent or brogue.

Never overlook that once you set up the special characters that people your story, their dialogue must follow suit. You must set your characters apart, not only in mannerisms and such, but in their dialogues. Otherwise all your characters will sound like you, the author, and will speak the same language as you.

Mary Deal

Author, Painter, Photographer
Eric Hoffer Book Award Winner
National Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist (past)
Pushcart Prize Nominee
Global eBook Awards Nominee
2014 National Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist
Global eBook Awards Bronze
Global eBook Awards Silver
Art Gallery: http://www.MaryDealFineArt.com
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