Monday, October 30, 2017

KA Servian & Accents

Please welcome KA Servian back to the blog today!
I love your accent
Writing a character with an accent is one of those situations where research and careful thought are required. If you overdo it, you risk your character coming off like a caricature but if you don’t identify their unique speech patterns clearly enough the fact that they have an accent will be lost along with some of their personality.
Using accents as a device is not new. It appears in many classic stories. Bram Stoker used it in Dracula as did Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island. The poet Robert Burns was famous for it.
Irvine Welsh’s characters’ strong Glaswegian accents in Trainspotting add authenticity. "Ah'll huv tae stoap sayin' 'ken' sae much. These dudes might think ah'm a sortay pleb." (Welsh, 1993). Welsh not only spells the words out phonetically, he also laces his writing liberally with colloquialisms. This is a very effective device and gives his work a unique ‘voice’. However, unless you are able to handle this device with as much skill as Welsh, it is probably a good idea to avoid it.
In my first book, Peak Hill, one of my characters grew up in Texas so I listened to  online recordings of native speakers until I felt I had the hang of the accent. However, my developmental editor explained that a ‘less is more’ approach is best with accents and I’ve stuck to that principle ever since. Her recommendation was to identify that a character has an accent as soon as they are introduced to allow the reader to ‘hear’ the voice in their mind. This can be easily achieved by having another character notice and/or comment on it. Once that element of the character has been established, all that is required is to sprinkle their dialogue with a few clues to their manner of speech.
In The Moral Compass, the hero, Jack, is Scottish. I identify this by having Florence, the heroine, notice it when he first speaks to her. Then he uses certain words such as ‘canna’ instead of ‘can’t’ and ‘didna’ instead of ‘didn’t’. The reader is always aware of his accent but doesn’t have to decipher what he is saying.
However, there is one place in the novel where I decided to follow Welsh’s example and spell out a minor character’s dialogue phonetically. I did this because the character not only had a strong accent; she also had a speech impediment. I wanted to give the reader a taste of the difficulty Florence was having understanding the woman as she placed an order for groceries. After rattling off her shopping list and seeing that Florence did not comprehend her, the character stated: “Hornastly, yeew’d thunk Oi wes sparking Chionoise ew soimtheng.” My editor felt (and I agreed) that in this situation phonetic treatment of the dialogue was appropriate and necessary.
What experiences/advice do you have for dealing with characters with accents in your writing?
An overwhelming urge to create led Kathy to pursue qualifications in both fashion design and applied design to fabric which were followed by a twenty year career in the fashion and applied arts industries and a crafting habit Martha Stewart would be proud of. 

Kathy then discovered a love of teaching and began passing on the skills she'd accumulated over the years—design, pattern-making, sewing, Art Clay Silver, screen-printing and machine embroidery to name a few.  
Creative writing started as a self-dare to see if she had the chops to write a manuscript. Kathy’s first novel, Peak Hill, which was developed from that manuscript, was a finalist in the Romance Writers of New Zealand Pacific Hearts Full Manuscript contest in 2016. 
Her second novel, Throwing Light was published in February 2017 and her third novel, The Moral Compass is due out in late 2017.
Kathy now squeezes full time study for an advanced diploma in creative writing around writing the sequel to The Moral Compass, teaching sewing and being a wife and mother.
K. A. Servian on the web:
Website       Facebook     Twitter     Instagram    Author Page  

The Moral Compass (Shaking the Tree Book 1)
Florence lives like a Princess attending dinner parties and balls away from the gritty reality, filth and poverty of Victorian London.
However, her world comes crashing around her when her father suffers a spectacular fall from grace. She must abandon her life of luxury, leave behind the man she loves and sail to the far side of the world where compromise and suffering beyond anything she can imagine await her.
When she is offered the opportunity to regain some of what she has lost, she takes it, but soon discovers that not everything is as it seems. The choice she has made has a high price attached and she must live with the heart-breaking consequences of her decision.

This novel is part one in the 'Shaking the Tree' series.
Buy on:
Amazon Kindle               Amazon Paperback

Amazon Aus                   Amazon UK 
Thanks for dropping by, KA!
You're so right! Too often accents are overdone and exhausting to read. I like the way you've worked with your Scottish characters.
How about you? Have you worked with accents in any of your novels yet? I haven't been brave enough yet!


  1. There is a find line with accents. I've seen too many authors go too far. It doesn't take much to convey an accent.

  2. A Southern accent is easy to overdue. You don't want to annoy your readers, just give the character some flavor.

    1. Sprinkling in just enough, but not too much.

  3. I also use phonetic spellings of a character's accent if I want to achieve something specific. Otherwise, I leave it up to the reader.

  4. I've dealt with upstate New York and east end Long Island accents (which is kind of like New England, but not quite). I do agree, it's a 'less is more' approach. Never read Trainspotting, but I'd have a real hard time with a couple hundred pages of that.

    1. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for your comments. Trainspotting is not an easy read, but well worth it.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I agree with the others about not overdoing it. But looking for how people who live in different areas use different words like you suggest is a great way to convey an accent.

  7. So tricky to add the right amount of flavor. I know as a reader, once the accent is established it's stuck in my head whenever the character speaks. Great post.

    1. Thanks, Leslie. It is ticky, but you’re right that if the author can establis( the accent well at the start it’ll stick with you the whole way through.