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Dialect in Writing




If one or more of your characters have a dialect or accent that you feel is important to note in your novel, I would suggest that unless you are very familiar with those regional speech patterns or accents, use them sparsely so they don’t distract from the story. The safer way to do it would be to choose a few instances of the dialect and use them in dialogue. Try as much as possible to have the rest of the writing in plain English.

Falling out of character by messing up the dialect is going to do damage to your credibility as a writer and to the credibility of the character.

I’d like to give you some examples of how I have used dialect and accent of a character in my novels.

One of my secondary characters in The Wind Weeps is Monique, a French-Canadian girl. I wanted to show that she spoke with a French-Canadian accent, but I didn’t want the phonetic spelling of every word of her speech become a chore for the reader. My solution was to limit Monique’s dialect and accent to a few of the most obvious speech habits that were typical of French speakers of English.

Saying the soft sound of “th” (as in “they”) is often difficult for speakers of French origin,  so, for example, instead of saying “there,” Monique would say “dere.”  For the hard sound of “th,” she might say “somet’ing” instead of “something.”

In French the sound of “h” is not used, so in English, Monique would have a habit of dropping the sound of the letter “h.” I showed this by placing an apostrophe in its place.  If she were saying, “It’s time to have something to eat,” she would say, “It is time to ’ave somet’ing to eat.”

That reminds me of the last clue to Monique’s speech being different; she would not use contractions. Instead of “can’t,” she would say “cannot,”  or she would say “it is” instead of “it’s, and “I ’ave” instead of “I’ve.”

By using these three changes in the dialogue, the reader could instantly identify that it was Monique who was speaking.  Just to be sure, I gave Monique two more habits of her own. I added the odd case of her swearing by having her say, “Tabernac,” once in a while. I also had her use an expression that was all her own by having her conflate two common phrases she had heard used in English. When she wanted to say “For sure” or “Sure thing,” as she had heard others say, she ended up saying, “For sure t’ing.”  Whenever this came up in the book, we would always know it was Monique speaking.

If you’d like to check it out yourself, you can find The Wind Weeps and its sequel, Reckoning Tide, at all amazon   (click on amazon) outlets and at smashwords.com (Click on smashwords.com).

My books are all marked down to 99 cents US so you can load your e-reader with bargain reading.

You can find a review of The Wind Weeps, by clicking on this blog post by Diana Wallace Peach.

P.S. For those who follow both my blogs, I have copied this post for both this one time. I don’t intend to make that a habit.



Author: wordsfromanneli

Writing, travel, photography, nature, more writing....

19 thoughts on “Dialect in Writing

  1. My English is good and I don’t have an accent, but I still have problems with “fifth.” It comes out as “fit.” Just can’t get it right!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good advice for writers who would like to make their characters sound a little more authentic by using dialect sparingly!


  3. Great summary, Anneli. I put a long(er) comment on your other blog.


  4. Nice post Anneli. I agree absolutely with you. And I like your ‘For sure t’ing’ – that’s so to the point. To just give a sense of an accent – that’s fine, provided the writer knows what the writer’s doing. But an unrelenting attempt to reproduce every nuance in any accent is a killer. Have you ever tried to comprehend a real home-grown Glasgow accent reproduced on paper? If your life depended on it you’d fail. Or English as she is still spoken in a lot of northern cities in England – like the now infamous line of the song – “On Ilkley moor bar ‘tat” for example.


    • I had to look that one up, Jeff. If you knew me better you would know that was a real teaser that would have bothered me for days if I hadn’t found out what it meant. So, on Ilkley moor without a hat (you’d die of exposure). Whew! Thank god for the Internet. I can’t imagine trying to read a whole book of that dialect. A wee taste of it would be enough, laddie. Nice to hear from you again, Jeff. I’ve been wondering if you were in hiding.


  5. Thank you Anneli for the kind words. Hiding? No, though it must seem that way. I’ve spent half my time in the last year or so locked away writing part of my second novel. And the other half of the year (simultaneous with the first half actually!) coping with a difficult period of PTSD which I’ve had for years now. But I’m emerging from that I think and I may start putting in an appearance a little more often again. I’m also starting to feel the urge to blog once again. We’ll see! I enjoy your blogs, by the way. And your photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve missed your posts, so if you get going on it again, I’d be very happy to read it. Thanks for the note on where you’ve been. Up and at ’em. You have a lot of wonderful experiences to share. I still remember what a great blog post you wrote about filming in the desert and feeling “seasick.” Looking forward to future posts.


  6. Interesting post, Anneli. I think a light touch with dialects is much more readable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. I remember struggling with this and wondering what to do, hoping it wouldn’t turn the reader off to have so much dialect in the book, but someone suggested just doing a token touch of dialect and that would send the message for the whole book. Once again, “Less is more.” At least, “Less is better.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. GREAT dialogue advice. Your dialogue is wonderful in your stories and, as dialogue should, moves the story along. I always learn from you, oh editor-supreme. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Once in a great while, I play around with dialogue in a short story or even a poem. It can be challenging to make the voice sound genuine and real. Thank you Anneli for sharing your discussion as well as your skills as a novelist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is definitely a challenge. This is one reason it’s good to pick just a few cases of the dialect rather than trying to replicate the whole unique language. Also, it’s hard on the reader if we try to put in too much dialect. Thanks for your visit and comment.


  9. Pingback: Dialect in Writing – Brandon’s Portfolio

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