Showing your characters accent through dialogue can be a tricky business. Which words do you write phonetically to show how they would sound? If you feel the need to write every word your ‘accented’ character speaks then why aren’t you doing it with ‘normal’ words or ‘normal’ accents?
Why not write nife instead of knife? Or newmoania instead of pneumonia?
An accent is typically used in a book as a device to show the attitude or class of a character, but lets face it an accent doesn’t just show up on the odd word every now and again. An accent is a part of your everyday speaking voice and as such every single word you utter will sound ‘foreign’ to someone from a different origin or social background.
If you try to write dialogue for a character with the correct pronunciation for every single word then you’re going to end up with an unintelligible mess that even readers with the same accent will struggle to read.
By placing the emphasis on certain words an accent can be established without having to break the dialogue down into some horrific code to be cracked by your readers. But then you run the risk of your characters sounding like Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins!
I personally think one of the best ways of dealing with accents is to establish where your character is from and let the reader’s imagination do the rest. You don’t describe every single detail of every single room a character walks in to, so don’t try and do the same with dialogue. Instead use vocabulary to reinforce an accent that you have suggested. Use words which that particular character would use, and slang they would typically throw into day to day conversations.
Putting a bad accent in your characters mouths is like building them up as a hunky hero only to later describe them as fat, bald and spotty. It can be a disappointment to your readers who have already built up an ‘image’ of what the character should look and sound like.
Until tomorrow…one is afraid one has to jolly well goh noh, cheerioh!