Writing Local

Blue-Fish   In Belfast we have three things – a big blue fish, murals and accents so coarse you could sand floors with them.

I once got a pretty scathing comment from a reader that I didn’t write my book in an authentic Irish accent. Seriously.

Now, firstly, a Belfast accent is NOTHING like that soft Irish lilt most folks will think of.  Northern Irish accents in general are pretty harsh – it’s the sort of accent where everything you say sounds like a threat. To write phonetic Shaft (the speech of those from Belfast – the city is  commonly known as ‘The Shaft’) would result in a page that looked like someone has just mashed their fist against the keyboard.

To outsiders it’s very heavily accented and has a peculiar phrase pattern that can confuse. However, we think we sound just like everyone else. We say and understand ‘flag’ and ‘car’ but it sounds to others like ‘fleg’ and ‘key-ar’ – to see a worked example:

‘I flew a small flag from my car.’ becomes ‘Aye flew a wee fleg frum me key-ar.’

Can you imagine how annoying that would be to read for more than a line?

This is why, no matter the accent, books generally aren’t written phonetically. It’s just too much hard work, both for the reader and the writer. I mean, who wants to spend ten minutes trying to decipher dialogue?

Most writers assume their readers are intelligent enough that when told a character is Irish/German/whatever that they can fill in the accent in their heads. To use another example – American accents. To those outside of the states there is a wide variety of strong accents. But how many books are written in phonetic American accents? That’s because those writers think they sound just like everyone else too.

q: So, how do you show accent without phonetics?

a: Speech patterns and sentence structure.

Think of where you live. Now think of words used in the area that are unique to that place. Words or phrases that maybe don’t make sense to outsiders, or that mean something other than what they seem to.

Now, here’s your homework for the week – try and convey your local accent using words and turns of phrase and local speech patterns. Read it back to yourself aloud – does it sound like the locals in your area? If so, then you’ve got it right.

That’s all for now folks – I’m in the middle of moving house so it may be a week or two before my next post. Just remember that I haven’t abandoned you, just been insanely busy.

Keep ‘er lit!




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