How Do I Deal with Accents in Dialogue?


Dear Hearing Things…

In general I feel written accents are visually distracting and thus detract from the reading experience rather than inject fun. Instead, try using wrong word choices, odd grammar and sentence structure, sprinkled-in foreign words, and regional/cultural idioms. But what if only their pronunciation of English is “off”? I like how Stephanie Perkins handles this in Anna and the French Kiss, with an American in a French boarding school. She doesn’t write accents even though it’s clear characters have accents. The English narrator thinks Please be in English. Please be in English. Please be in English while waiting for a Frenchman to reply. A Brit says “arse” for “ass.” A Frenchman translates on-the-fly: “There are loads of first-run theatres, but even more—what do you call them?—revival houses.” In Anna, character nationalities are represented in dialogue but readers aren’t distracted from the content or jarred out of the “zone.”

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. Great answer. It’s very helpful. Now I don’t have to waste time trying to figure out the spelling that would convey the accent.

  2. This is very helpful. I love reading stories with French expressions, but that’s because I speak French and enjoy the “visit” with the language; however, if I’m reading a book filled with German words and expressions, it can be distracting and a bit tedious.

    • This can definitely play out differently with specific readers and books. As can so many things with writing, which is why I like to explore options rather than declare “rules!” 🙂

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