Thursday, March 31, 2011

I speak-a the English good, no?

Last week, Terri posted an excerpt from Loretta Chase's Your Scandalous Ways, which sent me straight to the library. I've been reading it in chances during middle-of-the-night bottles.

One of the multitude of things I've been impressed with is Loretta Chase's ability to write dialog in such a way that you hear the character's accent in your mind.

Take, for example, this, from an Italian character:
"She reads the poems to me, else I would not understand them at all. To read it hurts my head. The way the English spell: Where is the logic? Nowhere can I find it. They spell like madmen."

And this, from a Russian character:
"Signoria enjoys to make me blush. I tell her, in my country, we awe shy to speak of such matters. To say them in the company of a woman is unheard of."

I can just hear these accents as I read. Part of it is the strong characterization, but much of it is the small tweaks to the dialog. The little nuances that a non-native speaker would miss.

For the Russian, she used "to make" rather than "making" - a tiny change, but one that has a big impact in the way we hear the speech.

Likewise, the phrase " Nowhere can I find it" instead of "I can't find it anywhere" has a foreign ring to it.

At the same time, the accents are not so over the top that they're difficult to read or annoying. In each excerpt, there are phrases or sentences that read exactly as a native speaker would say them. Its a nice balance, for me at least, to create just enough of an accent for readers to hear it, but not be distracted by it.

So let's practice! Pretend a character with a thick accent stumbles into your WIP. They can be French or Russian or Indian or anything else you can think of. Give us a few lines of dialog that has a accent to it!



Marnee said...

Ohhh.... I love this idea. :)

However, I fear I'm going to suck at it.
Let's see.

"I tell you again, I have no interest in your money. To take money for that, it is unthinkable."

In my humble thoughts, I think that a lot of the language barriers with the Romance languages can be expressed by not conjugating the verbs. Take, for example. Will take, took, taking, it's all very confusing for someone new to the language. I remember trying to figure out which tense to use when I was taking Spanish. So, I could see how it would be easier just to use the verb in the "to" form to express a thought, especially if I was upset and didn't have the energy to think it through.

To take, to eat, to feel. Etc.

Donna said...

Your Scandalous Ways is one of my fave Loretta Chase books. And you're so right about the accents adding so much flavor. I think I'm not very good at them though. LOL I've got an appt. this morning, but when I come back maybe I can come up with something. :)

Bosun said...

I wish I could take credit for this Loretta Chase lovefest, but I don't remember posting anything from that book. In fact, I own that book and have never read it. *hangs head in shame* I KNOW! Please don't take away my romance reader card.

This doesn't come up much in my small town contemporary stuff, but I have a secondary character in the new WIP who is an eclectic older black woman, so I think I'll need to get her speech patterns just right.

The most recent romances I've read where this sort of thing was done perfect are The Spymaster's Lady and The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. The heroine of Spymaster is French and even her inner thoughts come across perfectly. I'm in awe of what Joanne Bourne can do.

And I still say Madness from Jennifer Ashley was one of the best books of last year, though I don't even think she made the RITA finals. Travesty.

On a side note: As much as I loved these books, Hellie hated them. LOL!

Hellion said...

I didn't hate The Madness of Lord Ian--I just didn't finish it. I think the concept was interesting, but it just wasn't my gig.

As for The Spymaster's Lady, I'm pretty sure that was a DUKE who was the SPYMASTER and you understand why I didn't care for it.

I don't think I've ever read a Loretta Chase. Not her Lord of Scoundrels...not anything. I can't get into her books--her voice or something disengages me. God knows her plots aren't any different than most other regency novels (which hello, it's regency, how different can you get?), so I figure it must be her writing style and voice I take issue with.

But none of this is the topic at hand!

"Och, what's a wee lassie like ye doin' oot on a cauld wet night like tonight?"

Or robbing one of my own dates with a foreign guy:

"You'd make beautiful babies." Granted it sounds like proper English, but do you know of a single American guy who would use that as a pick up line?

Donna said...

Maybe I get credit for the excerpt, since I did use it in my Heroes and Heartbreakers blog post. :)

And I thought the Madness book was interesting, but didn't live up to the hype. Of course, for some reason I tend to lean towards the books that aren't the most popular. LOL

Scapegoat said...

Bo'Sun - finally read Ashley's The Madness a few weeks ago and adored it. LOVED it. Can't believe it wasn't up for a RITA.

The Spymaster's Lady is on my TBR pile and I really need to get to that one.

Bosun said...

You take the credit, Donna. That sounds about right. I knew I'd seen it somewhere too. LOL! Though it is nice to get "credit" for something instead of the "blame". ;)

I have read other Chase books and love them. She writes intelligent characters, much like Eloisa James does. I'm a sucker for those kinds of books. Not that everyone else writes stupid people, Chase and James characters are just a notch higher.

Scape - Wasn't that book GOOD?! Man, and I have the next one but haven't gotten to it. Right now I'm reading craft books and plotting, but as soon as I get back around to reading for fun, I need to put that on top of the pile.

Donna - I picked up one that was being hyped early last year, read a few pages, then never picked it back up. So I won't avoid because of the hype, but the hype is no guarantee I'll like it either.

Loving the brogue, Hellie!

Donna said...

Terri -- Blame, credit. Tomato, tomahto. LOL I agree with your description of Chase's books, and Eloisa's -- they're a little more cerebral. I've been reading Chase's books since she wrote straight regencies so I'm more used to her voice and style, but it may be a little too formal or different for others.

I also like to check out the books that are hyped by others, so I can see what I'm not "getting". That's why I always ask people what it is that made them feel so excited about a book -- so I can analyze it and figure out why it didn't work for me. There's always something to learn. :)

Donna said...

Oh, and to keep on topic (just for a change of pace--LOL). . .

Another thing that happens with someone speaking a language that is not their first one -- they have a tendency to pause, so they can search their brain for the correct word. I think it's because the brain is translating, on the fly, and sometimes it can't keep up. :) It may be harder to show that in a story though.

Bosun said...

So true about the pauses, Donna. So, lots of ... in the dialogue?

This is making me think of Fabio from Top Chef. Strong Italian accent and in his last challenge he had to make a hamburger. He kept calling it a booger. LOL! So wrong, but he's so adorable, you have to forgive him.

Do those JR Ward books fall into this accent thing? Is gangsta or bro or ebonics or whatever the hell she writes in considered an accent? LOL!

Bosun said...

I opened one in Wally World when they were all the rage, got through maybe two sentences and decided I could never in a million years read them. LOL!

Hellion said...

I think "gangsta" is more of a dialect. Like southern speak is a dialect. I'm trying to remember my English class that covered this sort of thing.

Of course, for the purposes of what we're discussing an accent and dialect are the same thing?

Donna said...

I've never read any of the JR Ward books. (I'm probably the only person on the planet who hasn't, right?)

Bosun said...

Not sure, we'll have to wait for Hal to make the call on that one. If we're talking about broken English and characters for whom English is not their first language, then I'd have to say not the same thing.

Marnee said...

I wonder about the dialect thing versus the not the first language thing. Because I've included a bit of a Cockney accent in mine, but that's an English speaker with a dialect. It's all about the flavor, I think.

As to the Ward books, I'm a fan still, though I do think that her world is getting too big and the books don't spend as much time on the main romance.

Sin said...

I think JR Ward's brothers have a big of the gangsta dialect. Probably spoken with a bit of arrogance and a lot of attitude.

I'm trying to get in the mood to speak gangsta. I do it to Jules all the time.

And can we count Canadian as foreign. That whole northern "Eh" thing cracks me up. No offense to our Canadian readers. In fact, when the GPS and I were stranded in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, we reverted back to a Family Guy episode.

"O crap. O gawd. O crap. O gawd." Better if you imagine it with a bit of a "eh" accent.

Like, "How about those Maple Leafs, eh?"

Hellion said...

I bought the first couple Ward books but never could get into them. But then I have absolute ZERO TOLERANCE for gangsta speak. Much like I have zero tolerance for rap. So I'm guessing I wasn't the target audience for those books anyway.

I like my contemporaries to be the Linda Lael Miller variety. Which I'm reading now and will be writing a review on soon for the blog, just so you're warned. And there's a DOG, and a KID--and I'm sure there will some other "Fran hates this trope" thrown in to make it a trifecta.

Incidentally I love the kid in this book, but the dog has not grown on me. It's a sheepdog and I inwardly keep thinking, "It's not attractive." I like my dogs to look like cops--polished and groomed--not like homeless people. If it's been a sheltie or a collie, it would have been fine...but a sheepdog? Ugh.

I'm sure everyone else will adore this dog though.

Hellion said...

I should perhaps clarify: I'm loving the LLM book, even though I'm not a sheepdog fan. I stayed up way too late reading it; and there are two more in the series coming out this summer.

Sin said...

Hip Hop and Rap are the only things that help me get through writing a sex scene.

Hellion said...

I like "Baby's Got Back"--does that count?

Sin said...

And, "Do you want a pop?"

Don't ask me for pop. I dunno WTF that is. (Well, I do know what it is but if you ask me right off hand you're gonna get the death stare until it occurs to me you asked if I wanted to be hit.)

Sin said...

If you like to dance on the bar top at the Vu. Hell yeah.

Even though I know you don't like it, there is something about Twista when he raps about getting it wet. That songs puts all kinds of inspiration in my head.

Hellion said...

The Canadian accent amuses me. And using an "eh?" pretty much can get you through it. :)

Actually what's more amusing than the dialect and using different words to mean stuff is using the same words--and they mean different things. Bring the Canadian down to Virginia and have her ask for tea. She wants HOT TEA in a cup, but to the Virginian experiencing summer, this is illogical. Why would anyone want HOT TEA in the dead of summer? You ask for a tea in Virginia and they'll bring sweetened ice tea to your table. Every time. Well, unless maybe you go to a tea house, but I don't remember any of those in Virginia. *LOL*

Sin said...

You bring me hot tea in the dead of summer and you definitely will be punched.

Tea should be iced and sweetened. That's just the way of life.

Bosun said...

And, “Do you want a pop?”

I have this in my MS, but it doesn't mean a punch. LOL! My book is set in a facsimile of my hometown in Ohio, where "pop" means soda. :)

I actually like a lot of Hip Hop and some Rap. But I can't listen to all that "I can make your bed rock..." shit. And I believe Kesha should be smited from the face of the Earth.

Donna said...

I got a free copy of the Ward book at the NJ conference (which Marn and I both attended but didn't know each other then) -- I tried to read it but there was like a million pages of "essential information" or something at the front of the book, and it felt like a textbook, so I set it down. But I'll give it another try. Sometimes I'm not in the right mood -- the first time I tried to read Your Scandalous Ways I set it down and didn't come back to it for a year. LOL It's one of my faves now.

So I guess the hormones have to be aligned properly.

Hal said...

Hey all! So sorry I'm late -- I'm back at work this week, and the change is throwing me for a loop. I have yet to actually make it out the door in the morning with both of us dressed and fed and arrive at work on time.

So I'm going to try to keep up today, but I can't promise anything :)

Donna - you posted it! Sorry about that! I don't know why I thought it was Terri. I had read one Loretta Chase book a while back, and wasn't the biggest fan. But it was one of her older books, set in 19th Century feudal Albania, and the writing was very dense and heavy. It was also 20 years ago. But I loved the excerpt you posted so much I decided to give one of her more recent books a try, and I'm so glad I did! I'm loving Your Scandalous Ways

Hal said...

Ter - I was totally thinking about Fabio while writing this! I love this accent. Soooo adorable. I think he's going to win fan favorite again this year. If anybody saw who won Top Chef last night, don't tell me - I went to bed at 9:20 :)

Hal said...

Marn - nicely done! I think changing the order of the phrases, like you did at the end, gives it that foreign twist too.

Hellie - I love "oot" for "out." Works for Scots and Canadians! And I agree - a red-blooded American man doesn't usually start with comments about beautiful babies :)

Hal said...

JR Ward does have a hella lot of gangsta speak in her books. It took me a while to get used to it. And then, of course, I noticed that she re-uses the same words/phrases (like "shitkickers" instead of shoes). I did really love her early Black Dagger Brotherhood series, though. There was some hot romance going on!

Bosun said...

Hal - I recorded the finale too! I'm so afraid I'm going to stumble over the results on Facebook or something. LOL!

I won't be surprised one bit if he gets fan fav again. And he should have won that Italian food challenge.

Hal said...

I worked with a Canadian guy, and he was all about hot tea, even in summer. But his had to be from Starbucks. Even the water had to be from Starbucks. Sooooooo weird. I want it iced too, but I like it bitter instead of sweet. So I guess I'm weird too. But not Canadian weird :)

Bosun said...

I'll never forget when the waitress brought Tiff a glass of iced tea and she explained she wanted it hot, so the chick went back and returned with a glass of iced tea minus the ice. LOL!

I grew up on hot tea because my grandmother was born outside London. But I don't drink it all day, just in the morning from time to time.

Hal said...

she explained she wanted it hot, so the chick went back and returned with a glass of iced tea minus the ice

hahahaha! that's hilarious!

Yeah, I'm trying to stay off-line a bit today too so I don't stumble upon who one. I'm still sad over Antonia being booted off.

Donna said...

I grew up drinking iced tea that wasn't sweetened, so it always kind of freaks me out that it is presweetened in a restaurant. How would they know how much sweetening I might want? LOL

And I also grew up referring to soda as pop. The East Coasters don't know what I mean when I say pop. They often refer to alcoholic drinks as a pop.

Hal, congrats on getting back to the work routine. I can barely get myself out the door -- I can't imagine having to add another human to the mix. LOL

Bosun said...

Me too! I can't stand Mike. Such an ass, does NOT deserve to be in the final.

Hellion said...

But I’ll give it another try. Sometimes I’m not in the right mood — the first time I tried to read Your Scandalous Ways I set it down and didn’t come back to it for a year. LOL It’s one of my faves now.

This happens to me a lot, Donna. I have lots of books I started, hated, and ranted to Terri about, but then read later and sheepishly conceded, "It's not bad."

Hal said...

read later and sheepishly conceded, “It’s not bad.”

lol. See, I just don't sheepishly concede :)

I did this recently -- had a book that I remembered hating, but my MIL gave me a copy, so I re-read it, and loved it. Very strange!

Julie said...

"I’m trying to get in the mood to speak gangsta. I do it to Jules all the time."

SIN does! And I am so soo sooooo envious. As I cannot do anything even remotely gansterish. I tried it once. My DD just stared at me like I had three heads. Then she crossed her arms, did that black-girl-what-choo-talkin’-about-head-shake-shoulder-dip- thing as she hit me with a “Muther! That is just SO Wrong on soooo many Levels.”

I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Having a 105 pound blue eyed blond haired American teenager do that black-girl-what-choo-talkin’-about-head-shake-shoulder-dip- thing while she is speaking to you in tones that sound all to much like Henry the VIII is what’s Wrong!

Bosun said...

Not sure I can speak gangsta, but I can rap along with some Eminem songs. Does that count?

I never get back around to anything I've put down in the past. I can barely get to books the first time. LOL!

Janga said...

I'm a huge Loretta Chase fan. I think she's brilliant. She's one of the authors whose books I reread to study how she achieves all that she does. I recently reread all the Carsington books and marveled at how much she reveals in a few words about her secondary characters.

I just finished "The Jilting of Lord Rothwick," the Chase story in Avon Impulse's soon-to-be-released anthology Royal Weddings, and my only complaint is that it was too short. I loved the H/H and wanted a full novel for them. Last Night's Scandal was one of my "best books of 2010" and joins four other titles by LC on my all-time favorites list.

I've never read J. R. Ward either, Donna, although I have read some of her Jessica Bird categories, which are much more my kind of book.

I tried the assignment and failed miserably. I'll be back later if I have better luck.

Hal said...

Janga, I love how you always know what's coming out next! I'm definitely going to put those other two LC books you mentioned on my list. There's been several things I've noticed that she does particularly well that I want to examine more closely (though I can't think of them off the top :))

2nd Chance said...

Late to teh party again. Fashionable late, I imagine.

I do the pirate speak stuff in me books, but try not ta over do it, seems how it were once mistaken fer hillbilly speak.

When I first heard my MN friend speak...I tilted my head and thought, "There is an accent there. It's subtle, what is it?" Not quite Fargo, not quite Canada...but definately MN...

I loved the Madness of Lord Ian, have read the second, liked it but not as much... I saw the Top Chef finale and know who won and who won fan favorite but I won't say... ;-)

Hal said...

Quite fashionable, Chance! MN is definitely an accent. I've got a bit of a hick accent (Missouri/Oklahoma) when I'm tired, though most of the time I can keep a lid on it.

Thanks for not spoiling Top Chef. Hey, did anyone else see that they gave Marcel his own show?!?!?! He's running a catering business with 4 employees who were shaking in their boots for fear of Marcel's wrath. hahahahaha. I find him too annoying to actually watch, but found the concept delightful.

2nd Chance said...

Syfy channel disturbs me. They gave that jerk a show? GAG! I mean, he was nasty and then it's not even the thing he specialized in!

Yes, I watched Top Chef finale and the ofter show. Well, not all the after show as the husband wanted to see the weather forecast.

Really hard to not say anything!!!

Bosun said...

I did see the commercials for Marcel. He might be interesting once he grows up. And stops putting foam on everything. LOL!

I can turn on the hick when I want. More than 15yrs in the south and 8yrs working on Country radio will do that to ya. I only really do it when I want to irritate my sister, who finds it hysterical.

The irony is, she lives in Pittsburgh and has picked up that accent, which is horrifying. MUCH worse than me saying "Fixin' to" or "Git ur britches on."

Hellion said...

Hmmm. I assume I have some sort of Missouri-southern drawl. I do have students who call me just to listen to me talk, so I figure it's the accent.

Mostly my accent is "sailor": "What the BLEEPING, BLEEPING, BLEEPING Hell is going on around here?"

So what is a California accent? Is it the "Hey man!" and "Dude!" bits or is it the stuff like, "Would you like granola with that? Don't stand there. You'll get cancer."

2nd Chance said...

I think Californians talk fast and that is about the main accent that is noticable. Now, Valley speak is a different ballgame, as is surfer lingo. They are very geographically dependent.


Now, Hellion, we are just concerned about the amount of sun you get... Here, take this parasol, the Caribbean sun can be hell on the skin...

Donna said...

Wow -- did you see how I spelled "confused"? LOL

Donna said...

I had someone ask me once if I was from Minnesota, which I thought was pretty funny, but since I don't sound like a lot of the New Englanders, they were ocnfused. LOL I don't have an accent, even though I've lived in many places in the U.S. I do pick up the lingo though - but that's because I'm a word nerd. :)

2nd Chance said...

Hitting the rum a little hard there, Donnaroo?

It's so easy to pick up accents. I had a subsitute English teacher once with a heavy Spanish accent. I waited until after class to ask him something and realized I was sliding into it and worried he'd think I was making fun. And in Hawaii...the longer you stay the more you pick up the sing-song casual speak.

Julie said...

Hal, this was an interesting blog. And I have to agree with …
Changing the accent or dialect of a character adds to the story.
I love Loretta Chase. Brilliant, witty and wise. I have some great quotes that I gleaned from her books.

Hal said...

It's one of those little additions that can really make a character stand out, I think. Like Fabio's accent - he just wouldn't be the same without it!

Julie said...

I agree, Hal.

Personally? I’m not really sure if I have an accent that can be pinned down to any particular local. Though I have been told quote “You sound as American as American can sound. But I listen to your voice? And I keep waiting … for an accent to break through.”


Irisheyes said...

I too have to pick up a few of the latter LC books. I read the Carsington books and really liked them.

You know the author who did the accent thing and I thought it was awesome was Joanna Bourne in My Spymaster's Lady (I think that was the one). Anyway she really put me in the right time and place. SEP also does an incredible job with the Texas accents in all of her books set down south. I'm not sure if they're over the top or not but I've heard she's pretty spot on.

Irisheyes said...

I lived in Southern CA for about a year back in the early 90's, Chance, and everyone picked out my Chicahhhgo accent immediately! LOL

The funny thing was that my DH (boyfriend back then) hung out with a lot of the surfer dudes and still lapses into the speak now and then.

Irisheyes said...

Off topic (sorry Hal) - Donna, are you the Suzanne Brockmann fan? I just picked up one from her and I'm enjoying it (The Admiral's Bride). I was wondering if you could recommend another or maybe a good series to start with.

Hal said...

Oh, SEP is a good example. You're right - I hear that Texas twang. Same with Linda Lael Miller!

Donna said...

Irish, yes I'm the SB fanatic. Er, I mean fan. :) I haven't read The Admiral's Bride. It looks like it's part of the Tall Dark and Dangerous series. I had a MAJOR crush on the hero in EVERYDAY, AVERAGE JONES, which is part of that series.

I got hooked with her Troubleshooters series. The last one just came out, but I won't let myself read it until I finish up some of my writing projects (it's torturous, but necessary. LOL) So if you want to start there the first one is THE UNSUNG HERO. The whole list is on her website.

Donna said...

Hitting the rum a little hard there, Donnaroo?

It TASTED like regular ole coffee. You better check behind the bar since it sounds like somebody's changing the labels on the inventory. LOL

Hal said...

Oh, that was me. Sorry, did not everyone want their creamer swapped out for rum?

Donna said...

Works for me! *hiccup* I just thought I was drinking decaf.

Hope my revisions make sense now. I don't want them to be ocnfused. LOL

Bosun said...

I commented a while ago, but Wordpress ate it and I was so ticked I gave up.

This explains my real bout (sp????) with hiccups this morning.

I took a cruise when I was 16 and for months after kept saying "No problem, mon." Took a while for that to wear off.

When I read Ain't She Sweet by SEP, I was certain she was a southerner. Totally shocked to find out she isn't!

Di R said...

I don't know that I could write an accent, but I try have show who my characters are through the way they view the world. For example, my heroine is an artist, so she notices the little details. When she first sees the hero, she describes his lips, "neither flabby nor thin, they were the color between rose and wine."

I think Nora Roberts does the irish brogue really well her two irish series.

I've read Ward, and once I'm immersed in her world, I don't notice the dialect.

I watched the Top Chef finale and it was really good. I was sorry that Mike made it, especially since he stole a recipe/idea from Richard.


Bosun said...

Exactly, Di. Mike didn't get to the finals because of his cooking skills or with an ounce of integrity. He got there by throwing anyone in his way under the bus. Antonia should have made it through.

I like how your heroine describes his lips. That's a great insight into how she thinks. I know I used a lot of baseball references when in Nate's POV (seeing as he spent his entire life playing the game) but I'm not sure I did it as well as you did in that one observation.

2nd Chance said...

Not talking about Top Chef. Nope. Not gonna say...


P. Kirby said...

My furiners are often elves, demons or some other paranormal critters, but I think my approach to ESL (English as Second Language) characters is rooted in my background as Spanish speaker. I grew up in a Texas border town, immersed in Spanish. While my first language is English, my brain is hardwired for Spanish.

I haven't thought about it much, because I just write what feels right. But I know I often do two things when writing ELS characters: No contractions and no "'s" possessives. So " brother's friend," would be "the friend of my brother," as in "el amigo de mi hermano." "I can't go with you" would be "I cannot go with you."

I don't write gangsta, because I don't have an ear for it. But I have written characters that speak Spanglish. (It's a border thing.)

Bosun said...

I watched Top Chef! YAAAAAAYYYYYY!!!!!

Pat - I do the no contractoins thing when writing historical dialogue, which I don't do often, but when I have, I think it should be more formal. Contractions feel casual to me. More contemporary.

I took one year of Spanish and four years of French. Nope, can't speak or understand either one. Though I can say "Shut your mouth" in French. Not going to try spelling it here, but I can say it. LOL!

2nd Chance said...

Hee, hee. I can conjugate Spanish verbs. Don't know what they mean, but I can conjugate them. Hell, I don't think I can do it in English, but I got Spanish down pat!

Yeah - Terri! Yeah...!