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  • Emma Ford

Accents in my graphic novel

In Formative feedback yesterday Paul asked me about the languages in my created world. I explained that in my head, when I was writing Tristan's lines, he sounded like Sharpe era Sean Bean. "Bollocks" or more accurately the way Sean Bean says "Bollocks" in his Yorkshire accent is incredibly pleasing to my ear.

The elves sound posh and the dwarves, well I don't know how they will sound just yet, but in a lot of fantasy games and films (Gimli in Lord of the Rings or the Dwarves in The Wticher game (but not the Netflix series) they sound scottish.

The big problem is, I am not a linguist, I don't know how to write a convincing accent, and I don't want to create a terribly offensive parody. So how do I do it?

It's important to consider whether the accents are truly necessary to the story. The characters that interact with one another in these opening scenes are from different regions of my world, they're even from different races, which is made obvious by their pointed ears (or in Tristan's case lack there of) and their hair colours.

If this were an animated film or even a game, it would be easy to do accents, because it would be voice acted, and that would work, because the viewers would accept that these are the voices given to these characters. But how can I write the accent of my human prince with (in my head cannon) a Yorkshire accent., without detracting from the action and the narrative?

I started by looking up the Yorkshire accent on Wikipedia, which in all honesty confused me more:

Then I googled 'how to write a Yorkshire accent' which led me to this site:

The writer talks about using phonetics and how that can take away from the story.

Conveying accents through phonetic spelling can lead to phonemes trumping action. ​ Here’s a mangled example of a French person speaking English. The spelling is phonetic:

Ze corpse was found in ze woods zis morning. ’Ow did zat ’appen? Ze area was checked only yesterday. Sumsing iz wrong ’ere. If the protagonist detective is French, and every time she opens her mouth this is what we have to read, our focus won’t be on the plot...

...We all have different accents, but conveying them with phonetic spelling is distraction not enrichment... your character’s accent really their most interesting trait? That they’re from a particular region or country might be enriching backstory. It might even play into the plot line. But is their accent key to the story? If it’s not – if it’s no more relevant than how they take their coffee – it needn’t go on the page, and if it does, it need only be in passing.

...Writers need to examine their own biases (however unintentional) when they convey accents, and other characters’ perceptions of them. Plus, at the very least, overworked or badly done written accents can sound like mockery. And even if you think your writing is amusing, your reader might not...

She goes on to suggest ways to gently nudge the reader into imagining the accent of a character with several different techniques, and I think the most appropriate for my work is to use localized or idiomatic words and phrases can also provide triggers for a reader that help them imagine accent.

Words like Bollocks, Bugger and Lass always make me think of the Yorkshire accent, because those are words that Sharpe uses a lot, and maybe that is enough?

Maybe changing the word girl to lass is enough to suggest to the reader that Tristan sounds like Sean Bean?

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