I see a lot of articles written on the subject of writing. I used to gobble up every tip I read and studied them almost religiously. After reading a variety of books in all genres and writing my own book, I analyze tips more critically now. Tips like don’t write accents bother me.
These tips are never from the bestselling authors. Bestselling authors tend to give advice like keep trying, guard your writing time fiercely, read books of every genre and even non-fiction, find your voice, and whatever you do: be consistent.
Stephen King advises to minimize distraction by having no windows. Just sit your butt in the chair and get to it. No playing instruments and all the other fun stuff until you’re done working for the day.
King isn’t a fan of adverbs, but JK Rowling is. Whenever there is a difference like this, I look to Hemingway (though I haven’t found a book of his I like) and his thought that we should choose whatever word is best for the situation. So I will use only the adverbs that are necessary. Plus, writing is an artform and that means that you shouldn’t repeat yourself or have boring, predictable prose. Now you’re confused because earlier I mentioned being consistent. Well, I believe consistency speaks more to things like point of view, character traits/mannerisms/behaviour, speech patterns, etc. If you have a sentence that uses a contraction (don’t), it’s perfectly fine to have the long form (do not) in the next sentence to change things up a bit. Do it on purpose rather than out of habit.
Mark Twain advised to avoid using very. He said to put damn in its place and the editor will delete it and make your prose right. Very is supposed to intensify, but it comes off as though you don’t know better words. Very sad = morose. Very happy = ecstatic. Very attractive = gorgeous, voluptuous, etc. There is a general thought that suddenly is similar. Instead of surprising the reader, it is an unnecessary word. But if you’re writing for children, very and suddenly are words they should be exposed to as part of the goal is building their vocabulary. There’s always an exception to any “rule”.
Kafka talked about finding your unique voice. What separates you from other writers? You find your voice by writing and by knowing yourself. Life experience helps you find it too. Marketing wise, we also need to know which writers we are like if we expect to sell books.
JK Rowling says to use whatever time you have, loves planning, finds rewriting important, focuses on plot and pacing, and feels you should write what you’re passionate about. Many other authors don’t plan to a high degree and fix plot and pace issues during editing. Clearly there are a number of ways to go about things, though she IS a billionaire. I totally agree on the passion. If you’re not enjoying it, the reader probably won’t either.
King also says above all else, writers must be readers. Actually, King says a lot of things including don’t be boring. I think stating a character has a <whatever> accent is boring. He never says not to write a character’s accent into the dialog.
Neil Gaiman says the key is finishing your stuff and being persistent. Again, nothing about accents.
I think it is woefully inadequate to simply state a character speaks with a <whatever> accent. What if you have characters from around the globe? Your prose will get boring fast. What if you choose a more obscure accent that the reader doesn’t know? They’ll have to put your book down and head to YouTube to hear it or they may plod along not fully connecting with the character. If they head to YouTube and you haven’t hooked them yet, they’ll go down the YouTube rabbit hole and may not pick up your book again. On the flipside, you don’t need to have the thickest accent ever and can slightly alter a few words or use certain ones that are known to be associated with a particular nationality. If my character says, “Mon Dieu!”, you might get they are French from any number of countries and may have to look it up to know what they said. But if your character says, “Laddie, I don’ know what yer talkin’ about,” you can probably guess they are Scottish and understand what it being said. Simply saying someone sounds Scottish feels like passive writing to me. And people often have specific words they always say different. My dad has been in Ontario long enough that he doesn’t sound French anymore, except words that begin with TH he pronounces funny. Thompson he says the th like in that and has a very hard p sound. That sounds more like dat.
I’m not saying to go around writing characters that sound like a stereotype. Though, if writing a B-movie script or certain types of comedy that might be totally acceptable.
Grammar Girl suggests to write dialogue in such a way only when how they say something is important to you as the author. Then she goes on to discuss other things to consider like regional dialects when writing dialog. I tend to agree. There is a middle ground that is reasonable and a value add.
Here are some famous books that still widely read that use accents or strange dialogue: A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn, Trainspotting, and The Color Purple.
Here’s an idea: Instead of telling everyone else how to write, focus on your own work. With over 7 billion people on the planet, there’s not a “right” way to write a book.