There's a baddie in my novel who fooled the protags by pretending to be mute. As has emerged, he did this to mask the fact that he has a very thick, conspicuous accent, which marks him as an enemy. Now he has been exposed, I find myself having to render his speech, but I have no idea how to do this. I can't seem to write his voice without him sounding like Count Dr. Stereotypical von Eeevil. While my attempts aren't as painful as the thread title, I certainly don't want to evoke a Hollywood villain. It's not supposed to be a comic fantasy!
Although it is fantasy, I've always thought of the accent as German or Nordic - which doesn't help with the cliché either. I've tried devising my own accents but they either don't convince or fall prey to the same problem.
Are accented villains of any sort always a big cliché? Can I get away with just writing his dialogue normally - as I've been doing - or would that seem strange if I have other characters with voices that reflect their accents?
if it were me, I'd find someone with the accent i'm after, and see how they pronounce it. I'd just go light on the rendering of it - I get tired of reading an accent after a while if I have to keep stopping to figure out what the person is supposed to be saying. Oh, you could also call or email local college/university and talk to someone in the language arts department. My experience is profs usually enjoy talking to writers about something they're interested in. Tell them your want to know because you're writing a novel.
If you're emailing, you could even find an English teacher at a European university and ask them about the toughest accent errors they have to correct.
[This message has been edited by debhoag (edited October 06, 2008).]
I think you should write his speech normally, with correct spelling, etc. Because otherwise it is very difficult to read and a put off. But have the narrator indicate several times that the character has a heavy accent. Whether its having another character have trouble understanding him, or else simply stating "his thick brogue was difficult to pierce." (yeah, yeah I know he isn't Scottish.)
The issue is whether or not the character is going to present as a caricature from excessive dialect. Dialect can overburden a story. There is one feature of German speakers speaking English that is pronounced, and subtle in small doses, the tendency to pronounce W's as V's and wice wersa. Velcome to my nightmare. One or the other, though, for consistency's sake. English has roots from West German language so they're not all that different in rhythms and cadence and particulars like articles and subject predicate formations. Not like Spanish where the article the has different personal relationship usages than in English.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 06, 2008).]
quote:he has a very thick, conspicuous accent, which marks him as an enemy.
So, because his accent marks him as someone whose first language isn't English, that automatically makes him a bad guy?
That would seem cliche to me no matter what language the accent indicated was his native language. Why is it automatic that someone who speaks that language is an enemy?
I'm asking this because I wonder if there couldn't be some other aspect of his speech that you could use to identify him as an individual, not a representative of a group of people (which is what is cliche).
Could the protagonist have overheard him speaking about enemy plans (or somesuch) in a way that when he hears him again, he recognizes his voice, not his accent, and that's how he knows he's an enemy? If he had a gravelly voice, or if there was a whine to his voice, or if his voice was particularly high-pitched, or if he lisped, or he couldn't say one particular consonant correctly, or so on, that might work without being cliched.
I don't know - I've never seen the Norse particularly fingered as evil masterminds before, that would certainly go against stereotyping
But if you have a small group of hand-chosen people (the in-group or heroes) going head-to-head with a political or regional group (the out-group or bad guys) that speaks a distinct language, I could certainly see how having someone turn up that speaks the bad guys' language would be suspicious.
It depends on context. In some Native American groups, for instance, it's hard for BIA to place an undercover agent, because dialects are so localized and so specific that it's almost impossible for the people being investigated not to recognize an outsider. Plus, with the size of the population, almost everybody knows at least vaguely who everybody else is.
[This message has been edited by debhoag (edited October 06, 2008).]
Thanks for the advice, guys. Let me see if I can explain:
The first reason for why his accent is a problem is that his country has been at war with the protagonists' country for centuries (think medieval England and Scotland) and there is a sort of mutual cultural loathing between their people. While that doesn't affect the protags so much, they do happen to be on the run from an organisation, based in that country and funded by their government, so if they encounter anyone with that accent they will immediately be suspicious. The baddie in question simply realises that if he conceals his accent he stands a much better chance of persuading the protags to trust him.
I have no idea how to render a Norse accent, though the more I think about it the more I love the idea. As luck would have it I'm about to start a course where one of the options is Old Norse, so even if I don't take it I'll have a chat with the professor. For the moment I'm writing his voice as per normal, Germanic w's and evil cackles strictly not included.
[This message has been edited by marchpane (edited October 07, 2008).]
I think writing it normally is the way, I had a character who because she was meant to be part snake had a lisp, drove me insane to write her with 'th's instead of 's's. I also have driven a reader insane by having a character who starts every line of dialouge with the name of the person it was addressed to (he learnt from creatures who speak in telepathy). Sometimes being too clever just annoys your readers (or you).
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quote:I think writing it normally is the way, I had a character who because she was meant to be part snake had a lisp, drove me insane to write her with 'th's instead of 's's. I also have driven a reader insane by having a character who starts every line of dialouge with the name of the person it was addressed to (he learnt from creatures who speak in telepathy). Sometimes being too clever just annoys your readers (or you).
Lithpth are a nuithanth. Jutht athk Terry Pratchett...
Another couple ideas for showing an accent, though I think in general you shouldn't write the accent into the text too much, as someone pointed out, Pratchett's Igors are particularly hard to read with all their lisps.
The first would be some regional vocabulary. "I reckon" suggests a southern accent. "Aye" instead of "yes" might suggest a Scottish accent. This may not apply very well in your case, since the character is actively trying to hide his accent, he would suppress regional vocabulary as much as he could. But let's say the protag overhears the villain talking to someone else(when the villain thinks he's alone), he might catch a word or two to suggest.
If the two countries speak a different language, his English might not be so great. Even if it's not incorrect, some quirk that's rarely used in everyday speech might suggest a foreign speaker, no? You don't want to overdo it to the point of incomprehensibility, but an itty bits of strange speaking way might do it.