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First Person Voice - Same as speaking?

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When writing in first person, if the POV character talks with a certain dialect or type of diction (eg. "I ain't got all day! Hurry it up, will ya?") should they narrate with the same accent, or can they narrate in a normal voice without the accent?

I have a POV character who talks in such a rough, uneducated manner, but I cringe at the thought of writing whole chapters that way. Does anyone have any suggestions how to approach it?

Thanks!

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/q/3793. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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3 answers

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Elmore Leonard's seventh rule of writing:

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop.

If your book were intended to be spoken by an actor then it would not include non-standard grammar or contractions. It is understood in theatre and film that the written script is a blueprint and it is up to the actor and a dialogue coach (if necessary) to inflect and add a specific accent.

Having said that voice has a flavour even without the use of non-standard punctuation. If you ask a UK Politician how his journey to work was he might reply:

"The blasted underground was closed between Pimlico and King's Cross, had to use the bally bus service. Most monstrous inconvenience you can imagine."

If you asked a cleaner in the House of Commons a less-educated chap from the East End he might reply.

"Got stuck on the tube, didn't I? I tell you what, these jokers might run the country but they can't manage to run the bloody trains, know what I mean?"

Just the response they give and the way they use language communicates the differences in attitude plainly without recourse to extra apostrophes and patois.

EDIT: Disclaimer: I don't necessarily agree with Leonard and don't think this advice is universal. But in 99 cases out of 100 it will be. If you have some special reason for breaking this rule then do so. But you probably don't so...

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/3805. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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People don't hear themselves as speaking with an accent. "Accent" is always an outside judgment--one person's experience of another person's speech. So if you try to write first person with an accent, you create POV confusion right away. Grammatically it's first person, but it sounds like a third person account.

I recommend not trying to spell words the way the character sounds (and especially not the way they sound to someone else). That always slows the reader down, and greatly increases the chance of popping readers out of their fictional trance.

Instead, write what the character would write (if they could write). Illustrate the character's education, class, roughness, and attitude not by spelling words the way they sound to others, but by the character's choice of words and grammar. There's no need to misspell words even if the character would. (You can get away with that once or twice, but a little goes a very long way.)

Now, when the narrator narrates other characters' dialogue, you have a little bit of license to write what the narrator hears. You can use a tiny bit of quirky spelling, but again, a little goes a long way. And note that the narrator will hear accents and dialects only when people speak differently than the narrator.

I recently read a story in which the first person narrator said "would of." That simple grammatical flaw (used once or twice in a 10,000 word story) gave me plenty of clues about the character's background.

A final note: It seems to me that your example doesn't show accent so much as dialect or diction. Those are similarly invisible to the person who speaks them.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/3798. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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If your POV character speaks with an accent and he is the one narrating the story, then you should be consistent with the voice, accent and all. The only exception would be if the character states very specifically that the accent is a fake and is done only for the benefit of those with whom he interacts. If this is going to be a problem, then you may want to change your story to use a different narrator.

This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/3794. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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