Bloody accents

by Timothy D. Jeko

Question: I'm writing a story where a character is Nubian. She is raised in a small village called fangross. anyway she is raised there and is later brought to an area similar to old Britannia. (It is sort of an alternate reality so it is not really Britannia.) Where she learns English but speaks with a Nubian accent. Only problem is I don't know how to wright accents, especially Nubian, Irish, Scottish, Asian, and even some languages from eastern India I can do; but I've never heard anyone from Africa speak before, definitely no one that lived anywhere near the Sudan. So I was wondering if you could help me out with this? She is integral to the story and is very proud of her heritage so it would be strange if she stopped speaking Arabic and lost the accent so I'm sort of stuck right now. Please help?

Answer: This is why writers used to be told "write what you know." Authenticity matters.

If you've never heard the accent you're trying to reproduce, good luck. The best thing you can do is find some people from Africa and get to know them. Listen to how they speak to each other. Perhaps watch some African television in English, if you can find it, or documentaries about Africa that include interviews with real people.

There are site such as The Speech Archive ( which will give you phonetic transcriptions of different accents, and there are books written for actors who need to learn accents, but these are of limited help for writers who need to create authentic speeches, not just pronounce them.

You need to become familiar with how people express themselves in the culture you've chosen - their unique way of phrasing things, idioms, etc. You want to reach the point where you can hear the character speaking in your mind.

One thing you don't want to do is use phonetic spellings in dialogue. This approach makes the reader work harder to understand what is being said. It is best to use standard spelling, and convey the accent through word choice, idiom, grammar, and how the sentences are put together.

Fortunately, in a fantasy book, you don't have to be as authentic as you might in literary fiction. You may only need to capture a little of the flavour of these different cultures. A few expressions can go a long way to distinguish your characters. Too heavy an accent, on the other hand, could become a needless distraction.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.