Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Writing and Roleplay: Character Accents

We need to talk about accents. Like, desperately need to talk about accents. RP community, I am looking at you first and foremost. Authors...yeah, some of you should probably also pay attention, but know that you aren't as egregious on this one in particular.

Bear with me, now.

So you're playing a character with an accent. And yes, I will continue to use the word 'playing', because this is largely geared toward my RPers in the audience. Anyway, you want people to know what they sound like in your head. Great.

Let me stop you there for a second and try to convince you not to type the accent at all. If that doesn't work, I have some tips, but I am obligated to at least make an effort.

If you tell me that your character sounds cockney, I am typically going to be able to look at their dialogue and read it in the accent you intended on my own. You don't have to go out of your way to type a phonetic accent for that. In fact, most of the time you can imply an accent with context clues. Cockney rhyme slang is incredibly unique and unlikely to ping anything else in a reader's mind.

Aside from it being unnecessary, there are a couple of other reasons you might not want to type out an accent. If you do it poorly, it can be offensive. If you overdo it, it can be downright hard to read and nothing kills an RP experience faster than other players having to reread your post 8 or 9 times just to know what your character said.

I'm going to be honest with you. There is exactly one player I know for whom I will bother to read a horribly written accent and it's only because she's so good at everything else. And I also usually bitch at her to tone it down. Anyone else I will literally just not read their dialogue.

No, really. I RP and read for fun. I guess most people will still make an effort. Frankly I don't have that kind of time on my hands. I'm willing to work for it on certain levels but working for it just to understand what you're posting to me when I don't actually have to is not one of them.

In case you're wondering what is a good case of 'willing to work just to read a post'...
English being someone's second language.
Me trying to RP in Spanish.
For some reason the post is in code for plot reasons and the rest of the RP isn't like that.
We're playing spies and using double speak in this instance of dialogue.

That's more or less it.

So how do you know when you're overtyping your accents?

Point 1: If you are accenting every single word you are doing too much.

Woiell, oi dunno abou' awl tha'.


Never again.

First rule of writing an accent: some of your words should actually be in English (assuming you are RPing in English okay, you know what I mean). Some of your sentence should NOT be underlined in red.

We don't need the entire phonetic pronunciation spelled out for us. Less is more. Your audience isn't stupid. We can fill in some of the blanks on our own. We don't need it spoon fed.

"Well, I dunno about all that" is just fine. 'Dunno' implies the accent well enough on its own. I guess you can keep 'Oi' for 'I' if you're really feeling extra. There is literally never a good excuse for 'awl' unless you are talking about the leatherworking tool.

Point 2: If you find yourself having to sit down and mouth out the words, you are probably doing too much. Less is more.

Okay listen. You want to imply your accent. That means picking out a few sounds and using those.

The 'th' sound is one of the most frequently skewed in other accents. Mind you, I don't type out accents phonetically in my books, but I do have a few RP characters for whom I will. Personally, I will only do that if the accent is particularly thick; it isn't worth it for a trace of an accent, it just makes the character seem like they're using more of an accent than they are.

I have three that spring to mind immediately so let's take those as a sample set.

Sasha is Russian. Clarice is French. Kenzi is Cajun.

So let's take the sentence, "Would you like to go to the grocery store with me?". None of them would actually say it in those exact words but for this particular example we're going to assume they are just for the phonetics.

Starting with the Russian accent; it actually leans more v's becoming the w sound. There's a little bit of exchange there. But the v looks better stylistically and gets my point across without overtaking the sentence. He drops his 'th's but only at the beginning of a word, which is enough to let you know it's happening without bogging the sentence down.

"Vould you like to go to de grocery store vith me?"

You will notice that this is easy to read and most of those words are still in English.

Clarice now.

"Would you like to go to ze grocery store with me?"

Again, it's the 'th' sound. It's very light, it's readable, you get a decent feel for the variant and where the tongue rests without having to slog through words to get there.


"Would you like to go to the grocery store wit me?"

I want you to notice two things about this one. First of all, it is still the 'th' sound, but it's at the end of the word. With becomes wit with a hard 't' sound. You could also do 'de' instead of 'the', but in her case I didn't want to lean in that much. It's subtle enough that it could have been a typo, but if you spend enough time with her you start to realize it's a speech mannerism.

You can read it, and you can still kind of hear the accent in your head without it being super obtrusive. Do the other words in those sentences have lilts that other accents probably wouldn't? Yes. Do you need to type them? No. In fact, should you? Absolutely not.

Point 3: Ask your RP partners how your driving is.

Knowing your audience is the most important thing. Some sadistic groups I know of can and do often read overly typed accents and enjoy themselves. Plenty of other people I know hate it and are just too polite to bring it up.

Ask them.

No seriously, ask them, it is not that hard.

If it's fine by them,  then you're golden. If it's not, you need to tone it down or at the very least acknowledge that you're being kind of rude and willfully refusing to fix it.

Point 4: The harder you are working to type your accent, the harder they are working to read it.

Effort =/= quality.

And no, just because you are working really hard to write your character's accent doesn't mean anyone owes it to you to work that hard to read it. Most of the time people get into an RP and just want to enjoy the story. Save your effort for things that actually matter, like the plot.

Point 5: You should probably do a paltry amount of research, at least.

No, don't just steal your phonetic accents from old issues of "X-Men".

Go listen to people speaking in those accents and try to pick up sounds. Consider which ones actually stand out to you the most and limit yourself to two or three. If you have a contact who actually has the accent you're trying to emulate, talk to them about it and get pointers. No seriously, most people would be thrilled.

Alright. So there we go. Some easy guidelines on writing character accents. Go forth, have fun, and be clear.

While I've got you here though, let me take a moment to remind you that my 1920's demon gangster novel 'Torchlighters' is still in progress and at this point my projected release date is February 15th. Still no promises, it's not official yet; this is still going to depend on a lot of variables, but that's what I am currently shooting for.

Keep an eye out for it. This blog will be the first place to know when the preorder goes live.

Fortune Favors,
Megan R. Miller

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