Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 12, 2011 - 4:47am

What is with the trend over the last several years to put accents in books with (badly done) phonetics? Seems like it's only American accents. I understand that you want to capture how people speak but it seems authors love to turn "Y'all" into "axxzyea'!?2llcvzzzput" and expect the reader to follow. I understand that show is better then tell, but doesn't coherent top them both?

Mick Cory's picture
Mick Cory from Kentucky is reading everything you have ever posted online and is frankly shocked you have survived this long December 12, 2011 - 6:37am


   This is hardly new or confined to American characters. Welsh continues to write in this manner. Burgess did it over fifty years ago in A Clockwork Orange, Twain before that. I think generally, as is the case with the three examples found above, that the author feels it important, nay necessary to represent characters and dialogue in this manner.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts December 12, 2011 - 7:09am

I hate phonetic spellings, it's a real turn off. especially dropping the g with an apostrophe, havin' and talkin'. It's an apostrophe catastrophe.

Waterhouse's picture
Waterhouse from Columbus is reading Bullet Park, John Cheever December 12, 2011 - 7:29am

I use description, or the reaction of a listener who is from another dialect region... some words such as "y'all" are to be accepted; such a word is part of the vocabulary, not the accent. I have heard fellow Northerners use "y'all". It is a great opportunity for the writer to put the sound of the dialect into the reader through means other than the phonetic method mentioned (and rightly dismissed) above. Such a method can easily pull the reader from the art of the story into trying to piece together the mechanics. The purring sound of my engine is enough to know it is fine... it would interrupt my drive to work if I kept pulling over and checking fluids, or running diagnostics to understand what the engine is trying to say.

Someone who speaks quickly might lose someone from a slower speaking region and sow confusion, and a slower speaker might frustrate a fast speaker who bites his tongue to resist finishing the slower person's sentences. The use of a few more beats to break up the dialogue of a slow talker can help, but also can be subject to abuse.

Let the reader know what the characters are saying, I feel, but let metaphor or structure convey the dialect, or let the characters convey in words or actions their reactions to or misunderstandings of that differing dialect. Just make it clear there is a misunderstanding at the first. I think we have all done this, telling someone we have no idea what they just said.



JonnyGibbings's picture
JonnyGibbings December 12, 2011 - 7:57am

Try reading Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting! It's brilliant, but the only way you can read it is out loud, so you can hear the phonetic Scottish. I read it at a train station, reading out loud and a guy thought I was a drunk beggar and gave me some change!


Waterhouse's picture
Waterhouse from Columbus is reading Bullet Park, John Cheever December 12, 2011 - 8:10am

Ha! Not bad! Next time put a hat at your feet. I rather like that... like the story tellers of ancient times who told stories for gifts from strangers in public places.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig December 12, 2011 - 1:16pm

@Jonny--that is awesome.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind December 12, 2011 - 3:42pm

I don't like accents showing up phonetically when I read, so I try to avoid it in my writing. Instead, I listen for the words they're saying instead of their pronunciation. It isn't only an accent that people will have--they'll have a certain speech pattern, and slang words or "little" words or "soft" words, and all that together makes for a good push on the reader's imagination.
It helps to let the reader know this guy has an accent, or at least where the guy is from, but I don't see that as being completely necessary. 

Side bar: I'm actually fond of speech patterns, and I decide on how my character will speak before I get down to writing my second draft of anything. I even write out a list of words he'd mostly use. (instead of "kind of," he'd say "sort of" for example. What swears does he use and not use? Does he use a lot of words to try and convey a point, or does he keep things short? Does he soften his sentences with little words, or does he use bold and confident word choices to pack a punch?)

I feel like speech is as important to a character as his physical description and goes a long way into showing what sort of person he is. But it is so much easier to read and write dialogue when it isn't phonetically altered to show an accent.

Michael Filippone's picture
Michael Filippone from Los Angeles, CA is reading Zeroville by Steve Erickson December 17, 2011 - 5:25pm

I usually don't like when accents are spelled phonetically in text. I have found that if the author establishes who the character is and where they are are from, I subconsciously hear their accent, even their words are spelled 'properly'. I don't need it spelled out for me, and I doubt I'm alone here.

Profunda Saint-Sylvain's picture
Profunda Saint-... from Calgary, AB is reading Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series December 18, 2011 - 12:39am

There are some books I have read that are well done with the bizarre speech patterns and accents that I don't think twice about it when I'm reading, for example DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little. It's one of my favourite books, and the accents seem to add some kind of twisted charm to the story. 

Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, a book I've always wanted to read but can never get past the first chapter is Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel. The freaking language makes me want to pull my hair out. I mean he even spells "I" wrong. It drives me insane.

Profunda Saint-Sylvain's picture
Profunda Saint-... from Calgary, AB is reading Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series December 18, 2011 - 12:42am


@renfield - I actually wrote a horrifically bad song about a month ago called "Catastrophic Apostrophe" which revolved around a girl getting a love letter from a boy whose grammer, spelling and punctuation were so atrocious that it read like an essay on her being a nasty whore. In the end, she kills him.