Do accents matter?

When you read, do you give the characters accents, even if the author has failed to give their origins and details of how they speak? (Yes it happens).

Of course, the accents we give them will fit our perceptions and be based on the information given by the writer, but what would happen to the story if you deliberately got it wrong?

I help to coordinate a creative writing group and have set a “homework” that centres on accents. I’ve been experimenting by writing a piece for one accent, but reading it with another and the result is amazing.

Just as the background music in a film can change pace, feel and emotion, accents can do the same for the written word. As an example of what I mean, there’s a great spoof movie trailer on You Tube where The Shining is given comedy music and a light-hearted commentary. The result is what appears to be a fun, family film.

So, I produced a short piece based in a New York police station and written in a Mickey Spillane-esque style. The accent, 1950s detective thriller/Bronx.

It reads well and everything fits.

But, read it with a broad East Anglian burr (think Goodnight Mr Tom) and it’s suddenly a slow-paced Inspector Morse type of story. It jars a little when the old, yokel accent meets the American vernacular but overall it works surprisingly well.

Funny thing is, I think I prefer it that way…


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