On Writing Accents

Generic characters are lazy. Pep up the music of your fiction with bewitching character voices.

In my younger years, when I was knee-high to a grasshopper and learning to type, I would put on songs and try to keep up my typing with the singer’s words. If I could stay one sentence behind the song lyrics, I felt like I was doing pretty well.

Now, I still challenge myself sometimes, but I definitely reflect on how it helped me get where I am now.

These days, the lightning-fast fingers come in handy when I’m trying to write characters that don’t sound the same.

Accents are hard.

One of the joys of reading is that you get to use your imagination to enhance the scene on the page. So, if the writer has left any wiggle room for what the character might sound like – if the character sounds generic – the reader can expand in whatever direction they choose.

As a writer, if you want your reader to hear a specific voice in their head to narrate a particular character, you will have to work doubly hard to put that voice there. You have to make it obvious.

Writing tip of the day: practice writing accents

And I don’t mean the lazy way: “Howdy, ma’am,” he drawled with a thick Texas twang.

If you want to make your reader really hear that drawl, you’ll need to practice listening to a Texas drawl. So go to Texas, sit somewhere in public, and practice quietly typing up the exact sounds of the people you hear talking around you.

Ok, you don’t have to go to Texas to hear Texas.

In today’s age: everything is a quick search away. You want to hear what Texans sound like? Look up a Texas radio station and livestream it for an hour. Put on a country singer from Texas and go to town for an album or two.

Practice spelling out the words fo-nay-tic-alee until you can hear the voice in your head and write it out consistently.

Listening to local radio (or watching local news or commercials) is a good way to pick up on localized slang as well, or quirks of word usage in a particular group. This can be especially helpful when you’re trying to capture the sound of a group of which you’re not a member.

But do not only passively listen: you must train your fingers as well as your ears. You must make sure that the sounds your ears hear are the words your fingers type.

As you listen, attempt to mimic. Pause and ask yourself the best way to authentically spell out what the person said in the exact same sounds they made when they said it.

It could end up being any number of trials before you find the spelling or language tricks that truly reflect your character(s), but when you do, you’ll know readers will hear the same voice in their head that you did in yours.

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Check out these titles for great examples of voice

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