Monday, April 11, 2011

Accents, Slang and Dialect

Congrats to me! I managed to hit my weekly word goal for last week, surpassing 50k. All right. Pat me on the back.

Anyway! Along with this writing-tastic weekend, I also started - and finished - Carrie Ryan's THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES. Seeing as she's one of my current fave authors, I fell all over this book and absolutely loved it. Hardbacks are really not in my book-buying budget, but I think I'll need to cave and buy THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES. I'm too eager to get my hands on it!

After finishing THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES, I started in on another book I purchased. I'm only a few chapters in, as it didn't grab and hold my attention enough that I've flown through it. While the concept is fascinating to me, there's something that keeps yanking me out of the story: Slang.

I don't mean our modern-day slang, but made-up slang as the book takes place in the future. A lot of the terms and words used are so foreign to any reader because they're all made up.

Now, I'm a fan of reading/hearing new terms used to match a certain time period or world (thinking of Firefly and some of its terminology, or even something like Harry Potter), but there's something about this particular book wherein the use of it is just yaking me out of the story and making me have to think about it at times. I'm still trying to figure out if it's just the writing style that isn't jiving with me, or if, perhaps, the over-use of such terms are making it difficult to get into. Time will tell as I get further into the book.

Along this same vein are accents. There's a very thin line when wanting to portray in writing a particular accent without going overboard. Personally, I do just fine if an author slips in there that a given character has a given accent. From then on, I can picture their dialogue being spoken in such an accent. Having every little word written out phonetically can be a big headache.

There are a ton of interesting articles on accents and dialect if you turn to your friend, Google.

What do you guys prefer? Slang, no slang? Slang but only if it's made-up to fit the world around it? Accents or no accents?


  1. I don't have a preference but I know that there's a big difference in meanngs for some words between Australia and US that could cause issues.

    Thongs are flip-flops in Oz. The Thong Song made it quite clear they're something else in the US.

    Fanny is quite rude in Australia and I was mortified the first time I heard The Nanny theme song. It was a Simpson episode that set me straight.

    Innocent to one culture is not innocent to another.

    Congrats on your word count too =]

  2. Nice writing! That's a lot of words.

    I tend to write in accents if they're similar to everyone elses. Things like dropped gs and aints and whatever.

  3. Ooh. One book I saw with made-up (world-relevant) slang was The Maze Runner. It took me a while to adjust, but I ended up loving the book - I still have yet to read the sequel! Dangit, I should jump on that. Anyway, point is, it's more the material than the slang. I'll work around the slang if I love the story enough, you know?

    I love reading a book with dialect, though. Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy is a great example - his books even have misspellings, like 'concentrayshun', because the main character is illiterate. I think it adds tremendously.

    Now, when we get into, say, Clockwork Orange territory... hehe, it's hard to make any sort of sweeping judgment for books like that. Govoreeting like that oobivats my gulliver, don't you know. :P

  4. @Sharon- you've had that problem before too? Glad to know that I'm not the only one!

    As for the accents, I like it when the author just points out that so-and-so have an accent. I don't like it being spelt out for me. One of the reasons why I'm having an on again off again relationship with Across The Universe. In Amy's POV, she sometimes spells out what they're saying according to their accents and it makes it really hard to read and get into the story.

    Although I think slang adds a certain deepness to the world building. In "Genesis" by Lara Morgan (Aussie book/author that I really really like) instead of saying "Earth to Rosie" it's "Mars to Rosie" because the influence that Mars has had on them is that large. Also in "Across the Universe" they say frexing (which I love!) and shite (though not completely original). Anyway... my point: for me it adds an extra layer to the world building and I feel more involved with the world.

  5. Sometimes I wonder if accents are written phonetically to make the reader concentrate more!

    If the story is really engaging, I won't mind. If the book isn't gripping me, it'll annoy me and make me less likely to read the whole thing.

  6. **Pat, pat, pat** Yay word goal!!!

    Slang and accents have to be done with a gentle hand, sprinkling here and there so the reader gets the idea, but if overdone it's too distracting and annoying. And writers have to be careful with modern slang, which goes out of style and sounds corny later (see V's "True that" dialogue in the early BDB books, *cringe*)...

  7. Hmmm... as soon as you started talking about slang I immediately thought 'The Maze Runner' b/c I know that book has been criticized for its slang (especially one word that gets a little bit too close to the f-word). I personally really liked the slang in that story, and I thought that it helped with the world building.

    And I agree with Wendy's post there: modern slang is almost never a good idea. Nothing dates a book faster than slang. I was recently in a play were the script was about ten years old, and we were constantly having to change small phrases b/c they just didn't fit anymore. You can do that easily with a play, but it's a bit harder with a novel...

  8. It's a tough one. I had this old lady in one of my novels and I used to sit in my office talkin' like her, real thick accent and you know, I sure looked like I lost my marbles, but it was a terrific passage. I kind of became her, but would I want to write a book talking like her, probably not - bits and pieces for sure.
    Now for slang. I've got a bit of a problem with slang. I guess if I'm using it too much, I feel like I'm trying a bit too hard, but that's just me. I'm not saying the use of it is a no-no, however it will date your novel.
    Regarding Sharon's comment, I walked around Australia and New Zealand all innocent like for years wearing a Roots sweat shirt... and of course you'll know what root means over here. In saying that, if you're writing Australian, then it should include the dialect and you can get into problems when it doesn't. Ah, that's it for me. It's late.
    Good night.

  9. Everything in moderation for me. I am a huge fan of accents in real life, but reading them for an entire novel can give me a headache. It's like, "Yes, I know they're don't have to make them say 'bloody' and 'bollocks' every page to remind me." Made up slang is okay as long as it fits into the story. Real slang is tricky, because it can date your manuscript. What's cool and well-known now might not be in five years.

  10. Congrats on making your word count! Good job.

    It depends on the book for me. Also the writing style, characters etc. It had to come off like it fits, like it belongs there otherwise it just feels like they're trying too hard.

  11. Wendy, I noticed that too! Now he's upgraded to just saying, true. Without the that. LOL.

  12. I do love slang in novels, though not if it's so overbearing I can't understand what the characters are saying. I especially love a slightly different vernacular, such as the poster above's example, "Mars to [whoever]."

    I think accents are tricky. In GONE WITH THE WIND, there are a lot of apostrophes and phoentic spellings, but it doesn't bother me since it's authentic. However, I've come across many other books where the apostrophes and phoentic spellings really bother me. I think it's because for whatever reason these books don't ring true, and as a Southerner I don't like people thinking all there is to the accent is dropping g's and saying ain't (no offense to the commenter above :)). As with any accent, it's just as much if not more about word usage, colloquialisms, and sentence structure.

  13. Kelley, amazing job on the wordage! I'm like you. It's enough for me if they just tell me there's an accent and maybe toss in a few words here and there sometimes to flavor dialogue or as a reminder.

  14. @Escape Artist - oh that might have scored you some unwanted attention =S

  15. I'm more a fan of accents than new words. But writers can go overboard with it. I remember when I was younger, I HATED trying to read accents. But then in college I had a professor who would read aloud, and he was amazing at it. So meh. I don't know. ;p <3

  16. I think Beth Revis did a good job in Across the Universe. The slang was just a few terms, and didn't happen often.
    ALthough, I'm going to laugh if that's the book you're reading :D

    I'm in total agreement on accents. Tell me what it is, let my brain fill it in. I don't mind a phrase once a while, but it needs to be done really, really well.

  17. Sharon, "thongs" can mean flip-flops here, too. At least, they did when I was growing up here in California, before actual thong underwear became a ~thing~.

    Trust me, I'll be calling on on my YAtopia peeps to help me out when I have a few characters who are from other countries, just to make sure I get it right, LOL. One's Australian, the other is Irish, I have a few that are British, etc. I'm terrified I'll screw it up.

    Riley, oh, man. Don't get me started on a Clockwork Orange. Easier to watch than to read, right? ;) Trainspotting is the same way.

    Wendy, you worded it perfectly. A little bit here and there to add flavor. But too much ruins it.

    Jess, definitely regarding the dated books thing. I read an MG novel a few months back with several movie and pop-culture references, along with some slang, and it really made me stop and think, "Wow, this book is THAT old? That came out when I was in Junior High."

    Jolene, nope, it's not that book! This one lays it on a bit heavier. Now that I'm a little further into the book, I'm not noticing it as much. And I DO think it is kind of necessary in this case to really drive home a point for the story.

  18. For me, the slang has to be very clear. I don't want to have to stop reading, scratch my head and think "WTH?"

  19. I so posted about accents recently and decided they make me stumble WAY too much to use them in my writing. Great post!

    Marie at the Cheetah

  20. Amanda, haha! Very true. If I have to squint, tilt my head and re-read the sentence - sometimes out loud - to figure out what it's trying to say, then it's a little too much. Unless, of course, they're TRYING to make a certain person's dialogue come across as difficult for the other characters to understand.