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.
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.