Your treatment of accents and dialects can make or break your mystery novel. The ability to accurately write accents and dialects is important because your characters come from all over, and their particular dialect or accent can reveal differences in ethnicity, geography, demographics, class, education, and culture. Here are some strategies for writing accents and dialects:
• Nonstandard grammar and spellings must be used carefully. It’s more effective to use standard spelling and describe patterns of speech when introducing the character. “His background revealed itself in his lazy Texas drawl.”
• Pay attention to differences in word choices. When it rains, Americans duck under an umbrella while Brits open a brolly.
• Note syntax (word order). The French say, “He goes often to the movies.” Americans would say, “He often goes to the movies.”
• Every language has unique idioms that pertain to a character’s geographic location or time in history. Americans cough when they have a “frog in their throat.” The French cough when they have a “cat in their throat.”
• Have your character use foreign words that are universally familiar or can be understood from context. “Merci, adios, danke.” ”’Au revoir.’ He waved goodbye to her.”
• Use standard English dialogue but describe how the character spoke the words. “‘What is poker?’ The Frenchman asked. He pronounced the word poker like poke air.”
Writing accents and dialects can provide vivid character description but it must be done carefully.