Anyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.
She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents, and she’s giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one lucky commenter!
Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!
British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.
I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?
So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:
1. I never write an accent phonetically.
Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.
In my day job, I manage the content for a large charity website. I spend lots of time training my colleagues on writing for the web.
When I visit authors’ websites, I’m sometimes struck by the simple ways they could make their sites easier to use. Last week Roni Loren wrote about the ten components to a rocking author website. Her number one tip was to make sure a drunken monkey could navigate it. Excellent tip.
My post today will show you how the content you write can make your site easier to use. I won’t focus on how you use your voice or how to market your books. Instead I’ll show you easy ways to ensure your message is clear and easy to act on – whether it’s “Buy my book!” or “Get to know who I am!”
Though I’m writing this mostly for my fellow novelists, the principles here can apply to all websites.
© Juergen Sack/istockphoto
For some reason, my first drafts tend to be dominated by one body part, and it’s probably not one you’d expect, considering I’m a romance writer.
I hadn’t realized I had a bullying body part until one of my beta readers returned her incredibly helpful comments on the novel manuscript I wrote last year. Throughout the manuscript, she wrote “Stomach again” and “Gut again”. My characters experienced all their emotion and tension in their bellies. Their stomachs twisted and ached. Clenched and heaved. Tightened and rolled.
When I told people I wanted to write gut-wrenching emotional romance, that wasn’t quite what I meant.
The odd thing is that last year, when I wrote this manuscript, I was under a hell of a lot of pressure because of family illness and unrealistically big work commitments. I told my husband at the end of the year—when the pressure began to ease—that I’d had a stomach ache for about ten months. The pain hadn’t been debilitating, but a niggling ball of stress had lodged itself below my ribs and refused to shift.
When I saw all the places I’d relied on my characters’ tummies to show their emotions to readers, I had to laugh (a belly laugh, of course). Writing this story was the only way I’d been able to relieve some of my own tension. My writing time was the only peaceful time I had each day.
And apparently I’d achieved that peace by transferring my own stomach ache to my poor characters.
Are there body parts that dominate your early drafts? Do your characters carry most of their emotion in one place? Am I alone in transferring my stress to my characters? (Please say no!)
© Brian Lary/sxc.hu
In the months leading up to my college graduation, I panicked. What the hell could you do with an English degree except teach or go to law school – neither of which I was very excited about?
I took the LSAT, but only because I watched a lot of Law & Order and wanted to work with a hot detective like Benjamin Bratt. Fortunately, I got lost on the way to the exam and didn’t have enough time to eat lunch, ensuring I got a mediocre score and gave up the thought of going to law school.
I’d make a terrible lawyer.
My best friend was panicking, too. She majored in world arts and cultures, an even less practical degree (though she does know how to do a traditional Indonesian dance). So she proposed we apply to teach English in Japan through the JET program.
The application required me to write an essay, which I did quickly and without much care. After all, I was an English major so I could write, right?
By the time I had my interview, I’d forgotten what I’d written. I walked into the room where three people sat behind a table. One of them was glaring at me already.
Not a great sign.
I might be making a huge assumption here, but as writers we must all be fond of words, especially their ability to evoke a certain feeling or express an idea that’s formed in our heads.
Where would we be without words?
I’m a week late for Valentine’s Day, but this post is my public declaration of love for words. And I have one particular favorite word: serendipity.
Serendipity refers to the accidental discovery of something good. I love it for its meaning and its sound. It also reminds me of the first time I heard it applied to life.
When I was 14, I started my first day of high school eager for more challenging and interesting classes. I walked into my biology class full of a love of science and a desire to one day be a doctor. Written across the white board in massive letters was the word SERENDIPITY. Our teacher started the year by explaining that most of our scientific knowledge was based on serendipity. She illustrated the point by telling us the story of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.
I also love the story of how the word was coined. There is an old Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip – ‘Serendip’ being an old word for Sri Lanka, meaning “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”. Horace Walpole called it “a silly fairy tale…as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” This story led him to coin the word serendipity in a letter in 1754.
See? Great stories are made of great words, but great words also are made of great stories.
What’s your favorite word? Do you like it because it evokes a memory, a feeling? Is it the sound you like? Is it the etymology? The meaning?
I’ve written a couple posts about accents – specifically, about how to write a character who has a different accent to you, and some subtle differences in British and American English.
Today I want to talk about an amazing debut novel that I think handles accents brilliantly – In for a Penny by Rose Lerner. The book knocked my knee-socks off for loads of reasons, but in this post I’m going to look at some of the ways she shows her characters’ different speech patterns.
In for a Penny tells the story of the impoverished Lord Nevinstoke (Nev) and Penelope Brown, a brewer’s daughter with a hefty dowry. Penelope’s father began amassing his fortune when she was a baby, so she has never lived in penury. Her parents are part of a rising middle class, so they speak much differently than Penelope’s titled husband.
Here’s how Rose Lerner subtly slips in references to how they speak, without beating the reader over the head with dialect.
What’s wrong with these sentences?
1. The Ireland rugby team are playing today, so my husband will be glued to the TV.
2. If I hadn’t got up so late, I would’ve got the bus.
3. I’m going to work at the weekend.
Courtesy Krishna Sadhu/etsy.com
Here’s a picture of my hero.
Quite a looker, isn’t he? Well, this picture could actually represent most of us (plus or minus the penis, of course). It’s a sensory homunculus – a representation of our bodies that emphasizes our most sensitive parts.
The sensory homunculus distorts humans based on how many sense nerves each body part has sending messages to the brain.
One of my favorite descriptions of the homunculus is from Tommy Kelly on his blog Darkling Wood: “The Homunculus is what we’d look like to everyone else if we looked the way we felt.”
When British comedian Jimmy Carr saw a picture of one of these beauties on the quiz program QI, he said: “It’s a good rule for a first date – these are the areas you should be concentrating on.”
It’s a good rule for a novel, as well. We’re told to focus on the five senses, and the sense of sight is often the easiest to cover well. But the sense of touch is hugely important in helping us understand the world around us. To create well-rounded, realistic characters, we need to describe how things feel when they brush against our characters’ skin, particularly focusing on these sensitive body parts. It’s not just about the tingles they feel, but temperature, texture and pain as well.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties involved in writing characters who don’t have the same accent you do. In that post, I wrote that one of my biggest pet peeves is “dialecty” words, which especially seem to plague Scottish characters.
Yesterday, Jane at Dear Author prompted a great discussion on the same topic – go read “Dinna Fash Yerself Lassie (and Other Dialect Crimes)”. Part of the discussion in the comments was about the incredible number of British accents, compared to American ones.
Today a friend forwarded me this video, which is pure genius.
Warning: Contains naughty language. If watching at work, for the love of puppies please wear headphones.
How many of these accents could you write?