Thursday, June 25, 2015

Query question - droppin' g to indicate a drawl: go or leggo?

My current WIP takes place in the south and my characters have a southern drawl. I intend to write dialogue using dropped g’s, but as my MC narrates in 1st person, is it wise to leave the g’s in tact or can I drop them in narration as well?
Here’s an excerpt with dropped g’s in both narration and dialogue:
My elaborately-coiffed next-door neighbor appeared to my left and shouted, “Stevie, hon’—Let it go! I’ll get it.” She held her hand up toward me as she darted across my front lawn. After retrievin’ (1) the ball, she handed it to her 16-year-old son and then walked toward my car.
“Sorry, Cora. I know we should keep to the back yard, but the gardeners are here today, mowin’ (2)  the lawn.”
When I read this story out loud to myself (an uber-important element in my editing process), I read it with a southern accent.  It’s how I want my readers to imagine the story as they progress through the book. It’s the way Cora speaks. However, I worry this might be annoyin’ to some people, bless their hearts… ;)

If I may be so bold as to use a regular blog reader for an example, let me introduce you to my dear friend Julie M. Weathers.

If you know her in real life, you know she sounds like she's from Texas (which is good, cause she is.)
But if you read her comments, you know that too. And it's not cause she drops her g's when she writes in the first person.

You know it by HOW she tells a great story.  And dear godiva, her diction.  She's got some of the best phrases going.

If you gave me five anonymous blog comments I could pick Julie out in a heartbeat.

So, the first rule of vernacular is: make sure your character uses diction deftly.

I loathe the idea of marking dropped g's in either dialouge or narration but that's just me. I find it utterly distracting.
As to your question: you're using dropped gs to constantly remind the reader of setting. There are more deft ways to do this: world building, and diction. 

One of my favorite novels of all time is set in Georgia and there's not a dropped g on the page.  And this time I don't mean Gone With The Wind, I mean Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. 
Here's where you need to trust your reader. Give us a compelling sense of place and character and we'll get that they speak with a Southern accent.


Unknown said...

FIRST COMMENT NINJA! The record shall stand FOREVERRRRR! ;)

Sam Hawke said...

Personally, I can tolerate (though I don't particularly like) dropped letters in dialogue. I don't think I'd get through much of a book that tried to shove a dialect down my throat in the narrative portions though. Our sharkerific host explained it pretty perfectly - you can make the voice read the way you want to without messing with the spelling...

Stuart MacBride's crime novels, set in Aberdeen, do this beautifully. They drip with Scottish diction.

Tony Clavelli said...

There's a sort of obscure West Virginian writer with an amazing surname--Ann Pancake--whose dialogue is stunning. Moreso than the dropping of letters, the sound can come from word choice and grammar--creating a voice instead of forcibly reminding the reader with every verb that the best you've got is a ton of apostrophes. I just googled her for a sample sentence:

"They burned regular, about once a month, the glows of the closer fires quavering Dell and Carol's window, choking them awake on their trash smoke stink."

When I read that I can't help but hear the sound. Granted, Appalachian is different from Southern in a lot of ways, but the concept holds true.
Though I also agree with Janet that creating the place does a lot of that work as well.

Ellen said...

"Distracting" is the perfect word for it, and I always caution my creative writing students against using dialectic spelling. Instead of making the voice come alive, it reminds the reader of the author's presence and takes them out of the story.

I love your advice here!

Kitty said...

I like stories that are flavored with a touch of patois. The trick is know where and how much.

Beth H. said...

I'm also in favor of avoiding writing out the dropped G. If it's clear that the novel is set in the south, then the reader can supply the accent. To me, all those apostrophes are visually distracting. It wouldn't be a deal breaker for me, but it would give me pause.

This can be a slippery slope. There's a lot more to a southern accent than dropped Gs. If you try to phonetically spell the entire accent, it would become unreadable. Better by far to use world-building and diction. Throwing in a few vernacular phrases like "Bless their hearts" is helpful, too. It immediately calls to mind the south, without a dropped G in sight.

mhleader said...

It's just so much more powerful to convey dialect in rhythm and word choice than by dropping "g"s all over the place. And if you think that's what designates a Southern speaker, well, you ain't been visiting down to the Piggly Wiggly lately, hon.

Okay, yeah, I know. Piggly Wiggly's are no more. What's a writer to do???

Unknown said...

If you do it, a little bit at the beginning goes a long long way. Once a reader gets an idea in her head about a character, be it the way they talk or the way they look, it is very hard (and dangerous) to change it. Alternatively, one well placed sentence or dialogue tag (He spoke with a pronounced lisp, or she sounded like Dolly Parton) can very succinctly set a voice throughout the book. Just make sure it's early enough that a reader doesn't get some other voice set in their head first.

Anonymous said...


today is one of those days that I want to disagree with Janet to keep her sharky ego from growing wings and flying away, but I have no choice but to agree. G dropping is annoying in reading, and out of the opie's sample, I got more from the use of one word "hon" than I did from any of the g dropped words. And even that word did feel a little forced, but it got the point across a lot more subtly than the dropped g.

But let's put it in context. 'R' dropping is a common New Jersey/New York accent trait, but when writing would it be apporpriate to use 'r' dropping to show the origin of a NY character? "Get in the cah, Billy or I'll take yuh cell away feh a week!"

There are better ways to accomplish voice than pure phonetics.

Personally I only use phonetics like this when dealing with very minor characters that aren't going to be three-dimentional and don't have a prayer of surviving for another 10 pages.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Although, mhleader, we had Piggly Wiggly here in MN at one time.

Julie, what Janet said. Your sense of rhythm and pace, the stories you tell here in the comments, give you away as an author from Texas. You don't need the dropped 'g's.

Sherry Howard said...

Youall are just about right. I'll fix us some sweet tea while we discuss this.

Unknown said...

I agree with everyone, which is a great way to start the day. My only concern with today's post is my TBR pile is getting ridiculous.

Kitty said...

I have an older cousin who lives in West Virginia. I traveled with her and her parents and our grandmother one summer in the 60s, and a big part of my enjoyment was listening to Krista Kay talk. Her accent, her way with words. I thought of Krista Kay when I heard on the news how Blake Shelton helped a guy rescue his truck from flood waters. The grateful man said he told his wife to slick up because Blake was bringin' him home.

S.D.King said...

I can't even read Mark Twain. Hate to admit that, but "distracting" is the word.

Same for "The Country of Ice Cream Star." SUCH a good book, but I bailed half way and read the last chapter.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Great question and answer.

It's uncanny how I feel Julie's accent, though I would probably be surprised by her real voice. My vision of her voice, through her writing and perfect grammar, is what I as a reader want to give it.

We know Janet gnashes her pointy teeth when she speaks but she's not adding all those hard sounding vowels to the ends of her verbs.

I think writing in (e.g. dropping 'g's) an accent is gimmicky. Like using too many foreign words. I've been pondering this accent question and how to avoid what I consider a gimmick. I think it also limits who will desire to read your work.

Writing is a code, like music or math. Stick to the rules of code to create your device. Don't use a crutch to make your point.

@BS I could beat you everyday but choose to wait.

DeadSpiderEye said...

The classic vernacular novel is Billy Liar, which was written in the context of cultural shift away from received pronunciation. One thing you'll notice about it is, it's short, conciseness is probably something should emulate if you're going to explore vernacular in detail, not necessarily a short novel, but keep vernacular exchanges succinct.

Something like just droppin' G's is so trivial that's probably not even worth doing -- oh sorry doin'. The use of such vernacular is usually utilised to portray some kind of linguistic foible, a deviation from the norm, that deviation will also tend to be deprecated from some quarter, usually as an indicator of social inferiority but occasionally as affectation, like for instance, aping French pronunciation with fillet pronounced, fehlahy instead of fille' (where the apostrophe indicates a glottal stop).

I've just said don't do it haven't I, well yeah, I'm afraid this is instance of the pot calling the kettle an off shade hue, eg: 'Boit Lahncastah ah fahg?' and ' o’ the funeral ma’s sobin’ an’ a cryin’.

Unknown said...

Lisa, shouldn't that be "Y'all don't need the dropped 'g's?" lol

Dena Pawling said...

Is anyone else also distracted by the fact Janet has two bright red numbers (1) and (2) in this post but doesn't include specifically-numerated answers? Here's my answers, because after all, I'm the authority on what Janet SHOULD HAVE SAID.
(1) A dropped G in narrative is more distracting than a dropped G in dialogue, because at least to me, it makes the narrator sound illiterate. Even folks with a Southern accent generally know how to spell accurately.
(2) A dropped G in dialogue isn't as distracting, but nonetheless, is somewhat distracting. I like that the writer hasn't dialected [TM] the entire passage ala Mark Twain, and a single dropped G every once in a while is probably okay in dialogue, along with other choice of diction.

I'm with Amanda also. “My only concern with today's post is my TBR pile is getting ridiculous.”

Unknown said...

For me -
Waiting is a choice. Winning is a fact of life. Just ask my wife.

(Actually don't. She'll punch me)

And trust me when I say this - my confidence often outperforms my performance. ;)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

BS, I'll let you win, don't worry.

Matt Adams said...

Droppin' Gs is one thing, but how far do you think this goes?

If someone is French, and their English struggles, do you spell out their mispronunciations, or just narrate they mispronounces something. Is "fixing to tell" the same thing as "fixin' to tell?" Do we ever use "gotta," or should they all be "have to?" "Don'cha?"

Caribbean English often has a a different set of patterns -- "wit" instead of "with;" "tree" instead of "three," "gwon" instead of "going." Do we do our own version of auto correct?

I dunno, but the overall topic Janet is a good one, and I'm interest in reading what y'all have to say.

Colin Smith said...

This is all about voice, isn't it? And how to do it well, and how not to do it well. Taking Julie as our exemplar of the day, does it matter to those of us who read her comments that she's from Texas, or do we just enjoy her distinctive narrative voice?

Back in the day, when I first met my wife, she was doing a study abroad at the university I was at in England. Here are some of the questions I asked her, and that she patiently answered:

"So, North Carolina--is that near Texas?"
"Is it close it California?"
"Have you ever been to Dallas?"

As you can see, I was geographically challenged. I might have been able to distinguish a Southern US accent from a New York accent. But between NC and TX, or NY, NJ, and MA? Forget it!

However, I wouldn't miss a distinctive narrative voice, even if it would take a more sensitive ear to pin down exactly where the narrator originated. Coming back to the point, isn't it more important that, for example, Julie has a distinct voice than it is we know she's from Texas, and she writes like it?

If you're trying to make a character or your narrator sound like he's from a particular part of the world, ask yourself if it really matters how accurately you reproduce the phonetic peculiarities of that dialect. If you have an international readership, the chances are many of them wouldn't be able to tell. And you're also opening yourself up to criticism from those in that region for the slightest mistake or misrepresentation.

But here's another thought: what accent do you read in? If you're from the US, would you read Ian Fleming, Andrew Grant, or Lee Child with an American accent or a British accent? Do you adopt a British accent when you read Harry Potter, Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis? Do you want your readers to read your books in your accent, or don't you care, as long as they hear and enjoy a distinct narrative voice?

Just some thoughts...

Susan Bonifant said...

Ellen suggested that it's "too much author" in the way and that's exactly how I feel when I read gimmicky dialogue.

I became impatient with Prayer for Owen Meany (gasp) because of the capitalized dialogue, and "bailed" on Back to Blood for the same reason (along with those thousands of exclamation points). I didn't love John Irving or Tom Wolfe for making me feel that way either.

It's risky to use this as a way to put the character across in full; it can backfire, too, if the reader doesn't share the writer's take on the character at all.

Completely agree on Julie Weathers, star of today's thread. I've been too busy at times to read all the longer comments but hers I don't miss.

Craig F said...

Dropping the G's does not make a dialect. It will end up sounding like a kid making fun of the way someone talks. A parody. If you have only heard a particular dialect on TV or in movies you will never figure it out because of the vernacular, as Janet said.

It might be better to paint a picture of the scene and let other read it as they will. Something like:

It was a quaint town like you would find anywhere away from an Interstate. The difference was that the heat and humidity were so impressive that not even the dust stood a chance. It is no wonder the people talk slowly and sometimes drop letters. It is a labor just to breath.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

RobCeres, And ain't I sorry hon?

Colin-As a teen, I thouroughly enjoyed Mary Stewart though she used words unfamiliar to my area (scree, anyone?) and put an extra u in others but I never gave her a British accent as I'd not encountered a British accent yet. Very insulated Midwestern woman (let's not talk about my age) here except for our annual forays into southern Illinois to visit Mom's family.

But with television and movies crossing international borders, I don't need to listen to Dick Van Dyke's "cockney accent" to get a general idea of foreign accents. So now when I read I know how accents, in general, sound. And since I've spent some time in the U.K., I enjoy rereading Georgette Heyer, since I better understand some of the customs and some of the "breakteeth" words used by some of her characters.

So maybe Mark Twain's writing was the television of the day? To help people who would never encounter that region to understand the diverse accents that existed within the U.S.

And, imo, Bernadine Evaristo in Mr. Loverman did an excellent job of showing how Barrington Jedidiah Walker speaks as an expat from Antigua living in London. Although I had a more difficult time reading his wife's POV way of speaking.

Unknown said...

Colin, one of the cool things about establishing a voice that's regional is that it is also evocative. So, if I establish the that my male protagonist is from Savannah, we already hear that slow drawl. Later, when I say he spoke rapidly, our ears really pick up, and this changes his voice in the readers head very powerfully, in very few words. Least I think it does.. If I mess this up and get it wrong the reader drops right out of the story.

LynnRodz said...

Nothing left to add here except to say, Piggly Wiggly has gone the way of Félix Potin.

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: Dick Van Dyke's "Cockney accent" was indeed a foreign accent--to many Londoners! :)

Rob: What if your readers haven't a clue about Savannah, or aren't aware of the difference between a Georgia accent and a New York accent? It may come as a shock, but there are people in the world--even in my home country--that wouldn't know. To many, a Southern US accent is simply an "American accent." I hope the internet has helped make people more globally aware, but when I was a teen, if you put on an American accent, you ended up sounding like J.R. Ewing.

On the other hand, how many picked up on the fact that J K Rowling wrote Hagrid's accent as a West Country accent? People in my home town (Hereford) speak with a very similar accent, so I caught it immediately. But did it matter if you had no clue where his accent came from? It was simply part of his character, and enjoyed it for what it is.

Again, just throwing some thoughts around.

Kitty said...

I highly recommend this: If These Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent

Unknown said...

Nothing left to add!!??

I just want to be the first to point out that the regional dialog of Carkoon has a lot of rough and guttural rolling rrrrr's. Think talk like a pirate day. Am I wrong about this?

Kitty said...

WARNING: The video contains some strong language.

Unknown said...

Colin, this is a good point, but you're always going to loose some points on some readers. Was Harry Potter a good read even though I totally missed that Hagrid had a West Country accent? You bet. There was so much going on there that that little miss (for me) did not detract at all. I could hear the distinctness of Hagrid's voice. I am also sure that understanding where he was from added immensely to the reading experience and their understanding of Hagrid for those who got that accent. But the books are still a masterpiece either way.

DLM said...

Julie is an example to us all. Literally. :)

I'm thinking, like everybody else, about the effect of "transcribing" accents and idiosyncratic vocal patterns or impediments. The Manha'an glottal stop is what's leaping to my mind; I have a friend who grew up in NYC and the glottal-stop-instead-of-consonants is inseparable from her charisma in my mind - yet to render her speech that way, if I were to quote her, would interrupt her expressiveness, which is the summer-storm, gusting, sweeping power of her speech.

I will say this, though - some regionalisms and tics are part of the language, even if not homogenized all through it. Y'all is a perfectly cromulent word - and irreplaceable. For some things, there can be no substitute. Hon, in the OP's example above, needs to be hon - because to change that to honey would change the scene. Some things are not phonic, but authentic.

I also agree with some that a dropped G is not bad, but when we get into tortured accents to indicate race, it gets squicky - and when the phonic transcription gets unique enough I have to stop reading to decipher words or phrases, that's too much.

It's actually somewhat like the music question we had on Tuesday; if I don't know the song you're quoting, is it worth it for me to winkle out your meaning? Sometimes, dialect dialogue gets too demanding.

It's also like the POV discussion from Tuesday the 16th: it needs to be invisible to my reading-brain, or it's not working.

Dropped Gs I can incorporate into my willing suspension of disbelief (or willing suspension of the knowledge that I Am Reading a Book), but don't ask for a lot more than that. For instance: my use of Manha'an above is, I'm quite positive, enough to send a lot of folks RIGHT out of a novel, if I were to put it into dialogue OR the narrative.

I'm putting "too much author" into my mental writing-rules lexicon along with "your research is showing" and other gems.

Elissa M said...

I agree with Janet (and everyone else). There's more to showing a character's roots than just dropping a letter here and there.

I also want to point out that most people don't hear themselves with an accent. As they see it, they're speaking normally. It's them furiners what speak all funny. In my mind, a narrator wouldn't drop letters but would still phrase things like they would while speaking.

As others have pointed out, writers can get by with occasional dropped letters and misspellings in dialog, especially with minor characters. The trick is to keep it occasional while still sounding natural. Even in dialog, using vernacular is better than dropping letters.

Mister Furkles said...

If you look at the masters of the Southern novel, such as Faulkner or Harper Lee, you find that they rarely alter spelling from formal English. A modern example would be Grisham when writing about Ford county or other southern locals.

So go light on it. Use it only in dialogue. Note Janet had no problem dropping 'be' from 'because' but she is writing an informal blog commentary not a novel. Readers familiar with the accent will be able to 'hear' it when written with correct spelling. But for those not familiar with the accent, they will hate reading alternative spellings.

As others said, use word choice, syntax, and grammar to indicate the nature of your characters' speech.

Drawl: The southern drawl has nothing to do with dropped 'g's any more than Yankees dropping 'be' from 'because' indicates a New York accent. The drawl is effected by elongated and diphthong vowel sounds. You can't get that in print.

When I worked in Arkansas, Earl, a coworker from Texas, complained that Ozark folk called him 'oil' and put 'earl' in their trucks. A humorous Ozark dialect book said--among many other funny things--'They walk on the flower but make bread with floor.' You can't write a novel like that if you want it published.

Anonymous said...

Boy howdy, is this a timely question.

I'm still revising, but I usually hold to ten pages a day. After that, my mind starts drifting instead of looking at each sentence and word.

I spend much of the rest of my time working on the new WIP. It's a Civil War piece about a Confederate woman who's turned her plantation home into a boarding school for young ladies to make ends meet and she's also a rebel spy since her mother lives in Baltimore, and her CSA col. fiance. The mother gives her a valid excuse to get passes to go back and forth across the line.

I've been wrangling with this question myself because some of the characters have pronounced accents. The two POV characters don't, but a few of the support people do.

After reading this question this morning, I read back over some of the dialogue and wondered if they:

1. Sounded southern
2. The ones who had the accents were distracting.


I tend to follow Diana Gabaldon's lead when it comes to accents. Put in enough to give the flavor without beating the reader over the head with it. Of course, some of her characters do drop their "g"s in her work.

I would never reflect an accent in narration. It's just too heavy.

Years ago when I was in real estate, I dealt with a man who had been quite a rounder in his youth and was rumored to have been involved with the mob at some point, but he was in bad shape when I knew him and owned a car lot. I brought some print out of houses I thought he and his wife might like by his office one day.

That particular day I was wearing a very Edwardian looking blouse that was a bit thin so I wore a silk camisole under it with lace in the front. I had on a black pencil skirt that was below the knee, but had a little slit to just above the knee. Black heels, a black fedora, tapestry belt, and a cameo brooch. The epitome of modesty.

I sat down at his desk, we chatted for a few minutes and then I laid the print outs for him to look at.

He laughed.

I asked him what was funny.

When you leaned over, your blouse gapped a little. I could just see the top of your breast through the lace. When you came up the stairs, that little slit gave me a look at your leg. Do you realize what kind of effect that has on a man?

I was mortified. I clutched at the blouse. "I'm not trying to have any effect!"

"Oh, I'm sure you aren't. You're so naive at times. Women think showing everything off is sexy. It's boring as hell. What's sexy is a forbidden pleasure, a hint at the hidden, a stolen peek."

I never did sell them a house. We looked at every house in creation, but never found the right one before he died. More's the pity. I genuinely adored his wife and even him in spite of his frankness.

I asked him once what the secret of a happy marriage was, because he and his wife did truly adore each other.

"Give your mistresses and your wife the same perfume."

Yep, totally using that line.

Anyway, accents, to me, should be a hint at the hidden.

I'm currently reading: Sarah Morgan The Civil War Diary Of A Southern Woman, Huckleberry Finn, and The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait Of Hemingway By Those Who Knew Him.

The first two are research. The last just amuses me. It's great. Favorite line so far from a long list of grievances Hemingway typed up on pages of copy paper, pasted together to make a list and tacked to the bulletin board when he quit a newspaper the first grievance was: "I Ernest Hemingway will not now or ever write about any GD peacock."

He had been assigned to write a fluff piece about a peacock the children's zoo acquired.

Which brings us back to my WIP. given the recent tragedy, which totally breaks my heart, I wonder if there is going to be a backlash against historical works set in the CW. Yes, I know it may take years to get to market, but this might be a permanent mindset. It's kind of taking the wind out of my sails a bit on a story I adore.

More things for this woodland creature to worry about.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

1 is not dialogue, 2 is. It's distractin' as hell. We can't all be Stocketts :)

DLM said...

Julie, I would think that unless your novel is glorying in slave ownership, you should be outside the fray. But I will add, too, that a great part of my own retreat from The Ax and the Vase is that right now selling histfic all about the ultimate white dude in absolute power is not easy. It's probably not impossible, but I have failed in my dedication to whatever possibility there is.

This post has me thinking about word choices, and reveling in them again. I've brought "supper" back into my speech, after letting that lie fallow for thirty years or so. We always had supper when I was a kid, but now everyone has dinner (and dinner used to be a midday meal, though that wasn't my family's speech pattern). A scene from Donald Harington's "Enduring" made me rediscover supper, and I love the word.

Then I come to the word restaurant, and wonder how I'd convey a subtlety there. My dad always pronounced that word "REST-rnt" but growing up in Virginia, it was most commonly either "RESTA-raunt" or "rest-RAUWNT."

Now, I would not use any of those spellings above to render the word; and yet the differences have an emotional texture for me that is meaningful. I began using dad's pronunciation after he died, one of the ways we hold on to our family's voices when we can't hear them anymore.

How would I write a scene with my dad - Ohio raised, but by two Virginian parents - using this word, especially if his little girl were in the scene too, RESTA-raunting away in the same dialogue? I don't really know. Character is more important than the literal rendering.

But now I need to think about this more deeply.

Jenz said...

Since the OP is either not Southern or hasn't read much fiction based in the South--possibly both--I suggest more reading in the genre is needed to get this right (which you should be doing anyway). Flannery O'Connor is a great example of accented dialog without resorting to irritating misspellings.

Colin Smith said...

Rob: Actually, identifying where Hagrid's accent comes from didn't really add to the story--it was more an "aha! I see what you did" thing. Okay, and perhaps I could "hear" Hagrid before I ever heard Robbie Coltraine's portrayal (which, BTW, picks up on the West Country accent, and does it well for a Scotsman). It's color/colour and character, which you get even if you aren't up on your British dialects. The lesson I get from this is: don't try too hard!

And I'll move to a new paragraph, because this connects with what Julie said: "Anyway, accents, to me, should be a hint at the hidden." Janet has said this before about flash fiction contest entries--often it's what's NOT said, what's inferred, the subtlety of the language that creates character, atmosphere, and story. Throwing a dialect into someone's face, especially when it isn't critical to the plot, often serves no other purpose than to take you out of the story.

Verisimilitude. Hint. Suggest. Focus on communication, not on being clever. All things we've heard time and again, so I won't elaborate. :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Well, Gone With the Wind IS one of my favorite books (though Fried Green Tomatoes is also damn good) and I'm totally okay with the spelled out dialectics in that book. Lovecraft, though, when he's tryin' to write in that manner, it's painful and I skim. But Lovecraft is whole 'nother can of worms, isn't he?

I'm not even sure how I'd write my Jersey-isms if I were going to try (and considering my current novel-to-be is set in my stomping grounds, I'd have opportunity), but some of it is situational and I don't even know I do it. The phrase "hang out", as an example, kind of comes out more like "Hangout" (emphasis on the G) according to my fiancé (who is not from New Jersey). Even my "regional slang" isn't terribly telling, as my grandparents are from Coal County Pennsylvania (so we have a lot of "didja" and "don'tcha" and "wanna") and then I came to college in Central New York. And I've been a precocious reader since I could, so I'm fond of older slang and Britishisms, etc. The "Nawth Joisey" is not in my lexicon, nor in that of anybody I know. Plus, I love listening to peoples' accents, and am frequently able to comprehend them in real time, which is a boon when working with the public.

My most fun writing dialectically was when playing Shadowrun with my friends in this last year; we did a lot of the between game sessions communication via Facebook, so written, and I play the decker (think hacker), so I looked up both military slang and also Internet slang of the Shadowrun (think more or less America, but William Gibson style, with magic thrown in, in the year 2079), and produced some amusingly incomprehensible yet completely correct sentences for my cohorts (and now the words "aces" and "static" have also crept into my lexicon).

Colin Smith said...

DLM: I hope the current situation doesn't affect people's desire to read historical fiction. This country has been battling racism since the first pilgrims set foot on American soil. It's a sad and shameful part of this nation's history, but it's part of this nation's history. Indeed, it's part of the history (and the present) of so many nations, including South Korea, and even the UK (not all the anti-Welsh jokes thrown around the border towns are good-natured, and there's still lingering resentment toward Pakistani and Eastern European immigrants from the 1970s). If we try to censor these things, we not only distort our history, but we rob ourselves of the opportunity to be humbled by our failings, and to learn from them.

Unknown said...

TBR pile; add Julie Weather's autobiography.

Laugh of the day: Brian - "my confidence often outperforms my performance. ;)

Anonymous said...


"TBR pile; add Julie Weather's autobiography."

That will never happen. A collection of stupid Julie stories doesn't make a good memoir, I'm afraid, but thank you.


Craig F said...

Colin: Hold on. We learned our racism from the knee of the British colonies.There were slaves to Britain long before the Puritans and Pilgrims looked down their noses at each other. In fact I believe the British/East India Tea Company brought the first slaves to America.

DLM said...

Colin, thank you. Of course, an ancient Frankish king owned white slaves, but it's not a major theme in Ax. (Craig, ask me about the very word Frank and the meaning of liberty in Late Antiquity Europe... :)) But from what I can read and tell, ancient white kings aren't quite the thing right now, and I'm actually okay with that. #WeNeedDiverseBooks actually means a lot to me, Ax notwithstanding. I like that people are looking for voices less heard - and, though Clovis himself is not what we could call familiar for most American readers, what his story says is perhaps not the kind of new that is being sought out.

I don't think Ax's not being a hot property right now means anybody's censoring the voice of a European king, only that there is a movement in play to make sure other voices ARE heard.

Julie, that's wonderful. I remember powerfully the first concentration camp tattoo I ever saw; and the time I met and shook hands with Elie Wiesel (the year he won the Nobel Peace prize). He has a hell of a voice.

My WIP has other voices. Women, mostly, but some POC characters, who are exciting me enormously. I like that I've been consciously spurred to this work - like any disciplinary requirement in anything we do, it's a challenge for me to take myself out of the work ... and yet to put myself in, too, in ways I could not/did not with Clovis. Brian has read one passage at least, of the new work. It is still embryonic, but it seems to be on the way to really working.

So for now Clovis can wait. He's lingered about for 1500 years, this will be a piece of cake to sit out. And when I'm better positioned, maybe he can be heard again. I'd be really okay with that, too.

As for Julie's autobiography: as with Janet, we'll always have this blog. :)

Anonymous said...


"If we try to censor these things, we not only distort our history, but we rob ourselves of the opportunity to be humbled by our failings, and to learn from them."


A friend on B&W is Israeli. She was involved with a woman who gathered stories of the Jewish women in concentration camps who were sex slaves and published them. Someone asked a rabbi in Israel if they should hide their tattooed numbers and their shame. He said they should wear nothing but short sleeves the rest of their lives to show how strong they are.

I'm sort of with Craig, though. Britain has a bit of history of its own to deal with. 500,000 Irish killed and another 300,000 sold into slavery that wound up on this side of the world. That was half of the entire Irish population at the time cleared out. Yes, I know you made a passing reference to jokes about the Welsh, but the Irish extermination was a concentrated effort and a significant number of slaves.

Sorry, for deleting and editing. I'm trying not to flood the thread.

Colin Smith said...

Craig: Oh, indeed. In fact, feelings of racial superiority are not the domain of any one culture, nor are they a modern invention, which was my point. From whom Americans learned their prejudices is really not the issue. The fact they embraced them and were (and still are) blind to them, is the continuing problem. I hasten to add and reiterate--this is not just true of Americans. Brits, Asians, Europeans--prejudices exist throughout human civilization the world over. Not all of them make the news.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I quite agree. I'm not picking on Americans, which unfortunately a lot of people like to do (especially my fellow countrymen). At times like this, when race issues are headline news again in the world's largest democracy, those smaller democracies like to point the finger and tell us what are problems are, blind to the issues on their own doorstep. Sorry if that treads on some toes, but it has to be said.

Colin Smith said...

*our problems. Sorry--just caught that typo.

Anonymous said...

I don't think dropped Gs are necessary in dialogue, but I would definitely keep them out of the narration.

Now, if it were a character trait that he or she drop a G when he or she is getting angry - something like that, sprinkled in sparingly, can be used to great effect. As with any technique, moderation is key.

Dena: I think those red numbers were simply to mark the dropped Gs in the post. :)

This, from Colin, made me think: "If you're trying to make a character or your narrator sound like he's from a particular part of the world"

Perhaps this: is the character from a different part of the world than the story takes place in? If so, I would think a bit of linguistic play in the dialogue might be a good thing. But if the character is in the part of the world that speaks like him or her, why would it need to be specified?

I think Jennifer described it best: "I'm not even sure how I'd write my Jersey-isms if I were going to try (and considering my current novel-to-be is set in my stomping grounds, I'd have opportunity), but some of it is situational and I don't even know I do it."

The narrator doesn't know they do it, and they won't recognize it in others. If you're really in the narrator's point of view, you won't recognize it, either. Only add it if it's something the narrator would definitely notice.

DLM said: I've brought "supper" back into my speech, after letting that lie fallow for thirty years or so. We always had supper when I was a kid, but now everyone has dinner (and dinner used to be a midday meal, though that wasn't my family's speech pattern).

Oh yes. I still say 'supper'. I rarely say 'dinner', simply because then the noon meal gets confusing. Yes, people think I'm strange. But I'm a writer. That goes with the territory.

Amanda: "TBR pile; add Julie Weather's autobiography."
Julie: "A collection of stupid Julie stories doesn't make a good memoir, I'm afraid, but thank you."

Have you ever read George Burns' biography of his wife called Gracie: A love story? It's a beautiful story of love and regret - and it's told in Burns' voice, with Burns' stories from the days of vaudeville up to the early days of television. I can see Julie's autobiography told in the same way.

First, though, we need to get Julie famous. Then the world can read the gloriousness of her autobiography.

DLM said...

bj: "Oh yes. I still say 'supper'. I rarely say 'dinner', simply because then the noon meal gets confusing. Yes, people think I'm strange. But I'm a writer. That goes with the territory."

Hee. True dat, if I may be so on-the-nose.

But wait, wait, wait. Julie's not famous ... ?????

Colin, "I quite agree." Your British is showing!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I think I learned about the "dinner" and "supper" distinction from Anne of Green Gables (or another of Montgomery's books along those lines. I certainly never say supper or suppertime, though my fiancé's father does.

I forget who said it, a couple weeks ago, that they thought Julie was drafting her memoir in the comments here? I've had less compelling (and not so well written) memoirs pass through my hands at the library, certainly.

On the topic of concentration camp tattoos, I read an article within the last year or so, perhaps in the New York Times, about how the children/grandchildren/relatives of concentration camp survivors have been getting that number tattooed, and in the same place, as a gesture of respect and remembrance. That really resonated with me, and in a way I don't feel I can adequately (or appropriately) represent in a piece of writing (I know no camp survivors, and though some of my relatives in Poland went to some of those camps, none subsequently emerged and made contact with their families).

Colin Smith said...

DLM: *clutches blouse* ;)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Julie,
"... collection of stupid Julie stories doesn't make a good memoir."

BUT it might make an entertaining as hell book. You may call them stupid stories, I call them a window into a life I'd like reading about.
You're funny babe, your stories are hysterical and have heart. I'd say that, and your writer's voice, are a good mix.

Stir it up.

John Frain said...

Generally, by the time I can get to this blog, anything I might add has already been said. More clever and more succinct than I'd be able to say it.

This is a collection of such amazing and diverse people, I'm just thankful to Janet for opening the front door and letting everyone in. Going forward, on days when I would have cursed the Internet, I will instead think of this blog and smile.

Thanks, y'all.

Colin Smith said...

Janet: Is there precedent for an agent (e.g., you) offering representation to a writer for a book they're in denial that they need to write (e.g., Julie)? :)

Anonymous said...


I hate for you to shelf your work. I would think a well-written story would trump that drawback. But here I am wondering if a novel starring a southern CW couple would be verbotten in the near future.

No, it doesn't glory in slavery. Robert E. Lee wrote newspaper editorials against slavery before the war. The issue isn't as black and white, no pun intended, as people think. There are many layers to the CW. I'm not writing about issues. I'm writing about what I hope are interesting people.

Now, for the blog readers, a curious question. What southern state has the most attractive accent for women?

Since I am madly in love with Shelby Foote's voice, I'll have to default to Mississippi for men.

nightsmusic said...

I agree with the others who say as long as the story is strong enough and the voice is good, I don't need any 'twang or drawl to tell me where the person hails from or what the setting is. There are two or three series that I do like the distinction of the character's voice written regionally, but those are rare exceptions.

Get your setting to stand out, make it clear by that where the story is taking place and trust your reader to fill in the blanks.

Calorie Bombshell said...

If you drop a G, at least have the decency to pick it up, dust it off, and tack it onto the end of some other word!

DLM said...

Julie, thank you. Janet gave me the phrase "letting it lie fallow", and that works for me. It ain't dead yet, I just think I might need to have MORE to offer. :)

Growing up in the capital of the Confederacy, I know it's not as black and white as would make things simple, and my own decisions about my White Dude story are not actually based on any kind of didactic feedback I've received. It's instinct. And the WIP is alive and kicking (but not my @$$), so maybe I'm right; if not, at least I'm not wrong. There is no wrong when you're a pre-published author.

I can't say I have a favorite southern accent - for women, or at all - but I'm might partial to my family's voices (the Carolinans are still with us, bless 'em). And I get to see them today, too. After our conversation here, my ears will be especially open to the family intonations.

And now I can't wait for suppertime.

My stepfather has a very vintage Virginian accent; there is a particular sound to most southerners that leaves the pale descriptors "drawl" or "twang" seriously wanting. If not just dead wrong.

Did y'all know the accent for the main character of The Cleveland Show is a specific Virginia accent, from a place called Goochland county? I've never watched that show, but from the little I've seen the intonations are well done; impressive accent work on a mode of speech that is NOT easy to synthesize.

Certain Virginian speech patterns I would describe as curling, before I'd go with the drawl or twang. My own southern accent, when it gets stronger, tends to be a little more Carolinan than Virginian; much of my maternal family have spent decades there after leaving the Commonwealth, and I took on theirs rather than the local flavor, which is in the suburban environs where I was reared, not as strongly southern-sounding as it gets in, say, Goochland. I used to get told by the kids in Carolina, when we visited, I didn't HAVE a Southern accent and was indeed not Southern. I used to get a little defensive about that, in the same way I got defensive in the Midwest about how not all Southerners are racist jerkweed rednecks.

Indeed, it was not until I lived in the Midwest that I ever saw gun racks and Confederate flags (which made me sneer; "Do y'all KNOW you never seceded?"). Those didn't come into vogue back in Virginia until later on.

Kate Larkindale said...

Irvine Welsh does some pretty remarkable things with dialects in narration. After starting Trainspotting (which I struggled with for several pages), I swear my own thoughts started sounding Scottish in my head. It was weird…. Certainly not something I'd ever attempt.

Anonymous said...


"It ain't dead yet, I just need to have MORE to offer. :)" And I believe that is the key. If you offer such a compelling story, that the aspect is not the focus people will forgive it.

The CEO of the game company I write for is Virginian. We skype often about various points in the game narrative. He has a lovely voice with a soft southern drawl, which is much more refined than Foote's. It has a very distinct Virginia lilt. I wouldn't in life attempt to recreate it on the page, but I think I can hint at it.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Before you drop those poor unfortunately g's, consider other things that suggest dialect.

A hint that was given to me that has worked great, it you want to suggest someone has a foreign accent, eliminate all contractions. First, someone who has learned english as a second language, contractions is the last thing they learn, and second, when reading it, the structure sounds a bit stilted and formal, sending a signal to the reader.

And then word choice, vernacular, and sentence length. I had a character talking as he got drunk. His smooth educated style dropped off and (to quote myself,) "As he continued to drink, I could hear west Texas in every word."

Grisham is good to study. Everything is set in different parts of the south. He uses phonetics very rarely. Like obscenities, they are strong sauce.

And, with that, don't underestimate the power of a well-placed, regionally correct, and character appropriate obscenity to ground the place. I used to ask my late husband (who had worked in an Arkansas stone quarry) for "ozark-isms" to pepper into the men's conversation, including the gem, "I'm going to rip off your head and shit down your neck" and one other even I couldn't bring myself to use. For my last book, I hit up a friend living in France for some choice street smack.

Bottom line, world-building and context are more important than phonetics.


DLM said...

I noticed when Julie quoted me - interestingly, I did NOT grow up with much "ain't" in my ears. Some of my friends said it, but more often than not any time anyone did say it, eight more kids piled on 'em to chant, "Ain't ain't a word cause ain't ain't in the dictionary!" - and, again, I heard it a LOT more in the Midwest, so to me that's not even necessarily a southern-ism.

Julie, you used "lilt" and I came so close before I said curl because lilt feels ever so subjectively feminine to me. But yes, that does get to it. Virginians don't always speak slowly (though with age there does seem to be a nice, relaxing deceleration and ease in speaking). I might have tried to be modest and not said refined, but yes, that too. White Virginians of extensive lineage here have an extremely specific tone, and Black Virginian voices I could listen to every day for the rest of my life and never find the beauty blunted. I actually despair, sometimes, that my own accent never has been Virginian. My mom swears to this day (I'm 47 and it's been 22 years since I lived there) the Midwest flattened my vowels, and I can actually hear it sometimes. My ex husband, originally from a very small town in Illinois, had a cute Norwegian-Midwest thing going; he has a really nice voice (speaking and singing). His grandmothers, Norwegian and Hungarian, both found me hilariously southern, but one of them happened to be a stripe of bigot I'd never encountered in all the would-be genteel racism of my youth.

Pretty much every guy I've ever dated has enjoyed seeing me get a bit het up, as long as it wasn't at them, because they loved it when my accent got stronger. Though Beloved Ex himself also had a thing for Fran Drescher and used to laughingly make me do her voice from time to time. Doofus. :)

DLM said...

Terri Lynn Coop, I know what you are saying, but for those of us "of a certain age" ... when I encounter speech without contractions, all I hear is Jeannie talking to Captain Nelson, or any one of a hundred really poorly written period pieces which mistook anteek-speek for being contraction free, which is inaccurate. I do know ESL speakers often go without, but this too is one of those rules to employ intelligently.

Anonymous said...

Dropping the G in narrative is hideous. Please don't do that. You can get away with it in dialog, if done sparingly. Also, "hon" does not need an apostrophe. The thing I found most jarring in the example was the phrase "elaborately-coiffed." It didn't seem to fit with the language/word choice in the rest of the example. And anyone who employs and refers to the guys who cut the grass as "gardeners" probably isn't going to be dropping G's all over the place. The example gives the impression (unintentionally, I hope) that these people are stupid and/or uneducated.

And this is why, if you're not Southern or have not spent a great deal of time in the South, you shouldn't try to (over-)write a Southern accent. I cringed when the questioner said s/he read those parts in a Southern accent (and take that to mean s/he doesn't have one). There is no ONE Southern accent.

I've known black Southern women of a certain age who are college educated and whose enunciation is as precise as their posture and manners. You have to listen very carefully and get to know them well to hear hints of the strength and the rage underlying their accomplishments. I've known white Southern women of a certain lingering era, regardless of their age, whose entitled bigotry is as ingrained as their tea is sweet and neither preference would ever cause them a moment of hesitation. I've known people from "down east" NC whose accents are so thick I literally can not understand them. I asked one such woman to spell a word she'd used and I didn't even recognize the individual letters. And people from the NC mountains are a whole other world, linguistically. I could write five more paragraphs about the men, who sound nothing like the women. And those examples are from just one Southern state.

Language and accents are complex. Your "Southern" characters should not all sound like each other. Make them as distinct from each other as they are from people in other parts of the country. You're much better off trying to set a sense of place and altering word choice and sentence structure than trying to mimic an accent. See Julie's excerpt above for an excellent example of how to this well (thank you for posting that, Julie; well done).

Fried Green Tomatoes is a wonderful book, if memory serves. I can see its spine from here, if I squint, and might have to dust it off and do a re-read.

Unknown said...

I would like to mention that we STILL have Piggly Wiggly's here in Wisconsin. There's one 10 minutes from my house and I shop there all the time because it's right down the block from the library.

Anonymous said...

If I could edit one sentence from above:

"I've known black Southern women of a certain age who earned a college education at a time when that was practically unheard of..."

I don't want to give the impression that black women in the South are not college educated. It's not true. Not these days.

Anonymous said...

You know how some blogs are so focused and direct in their comments?

Yeah, we're sort of the Golden Retrievers of comment land. Poor Janet.

Anonymous said...


Bah, I took it down because I didn't want to infringe on Janet's blog. I'm guilty of Hosiah dropping his "g" though. I can hear shark teeth gnashing.

Anyway, this is rough draft, so I'll be fiddling around with it some more.

"Want I should take these shelves down, Miz McKenzie?" he asked. "Enough lumber here to build a coop. Ever time I turned around he was asking Hosiah for another board.
'What you doin' wit all them boards, Massa Stossel?' Hosiah'd ask.
'Building an ark, Hosiah. Building an ark.'
Don't see no damned boat around here. Just shelves and shelves of books no one gonna read, but you ladies."

His imitation of Hosiah's and Mr. Stossel's voices had been spot on. "An ark can also be a refuge or asylum."

"Well, asylum fits true enough. Best get this stuff packed. Looks like rain and I didn't bring a tarp. Didn't realize we'd be packing the library of Alexander."


"Who some ever had all those books."

Scott Sloan said...

I think the OP'er might'a done gone and found a right tender button, for all them comments bein' generated.
As a dyed-in-the-wool, born-and-bred and true-blue Southern gentleman – who happens to have done left the south (and family and friends) 'cause of all that there racial hatred – I got me some right strong feelings 'bout the issue.
I remember bein' kinda upset, upon learnin' (some years after my college education) that I knew all of them there southern general's names from the CW, but I only knew the Big Two from the north.
My mother didn't no how understand why I'd be upset by that there revelation…

Who knew I'd find the same ol' hatreds wherever I went… just dressed up in different uniforms, is all.

History aside, I find the discussion right fascinating, and a right heapin' helpin' of vi'ttals for thought.
My current WIP has got itself an old southern narrator, and when he speechifies, I do set them dulcet tones in the vernacular. But as someone else said, it's 'bout more than just droppin' a 'g' or two. It's in word choice, and word combinations.
I s'pose, when you get right down to it, it don't really make no never mind.
Or maybe it do. But if it do, I reckon that there's a tale for another time…
And to whoever done wrote it: I contend that 'fixing to tell' IS different from 'fixin' to tell'.
All you gotta do is try to pronounce it 'correctly', over and over in your head-bone.
The 'g' kinda gets a bit tangled up with the following' 'to'.

A smidge.

I reckon people don't really know what they're missin' by not readin' Mark Twain.
And I wonders if it mightn't be some deep-seated reaction to the way them people done talk.
Cause the books themselves are right well written.
But then, I ain't got me a snowballs chance in the Devil's kitchen of gettin' through a book by that there Scot's fellah, George McDonald. When he sets his sights on the scottish accent, I'm a goner…

It seems my keyboard somehow shifted out of its more normal setting of 'US English', and into 'US Grits'.
I apologize to anyone who might have been offended by a, purely unintentional, hardware issue.
That is, if anyone is even still reading such a hideous comment, at this point.

Anonymous said...

Julie (and Scott), some G's just need to be dropped, in dialog. No matter how distracting it is to certain agents who live in the North and who shall not be named. It's more distracting to leave them in there. "What you doin'" and "fixin' to [anything]" are two good examples.

Scott, that cracked me up. But honestly, I heard at least two, maybe three, different accents in your comment.

Unknown said...

OP, if you read the comments,

Janice Hardy had a guest poster on her blog the other day who wrote about dealing with different dialects like this, specifically southern dialects.

Skip to #5 for the relevant info or read the whole thing. It's never bad to brush up on the basics. :)

CynthiaMc said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm from Alabama and have never dropped a g in my life. My mother (from Mississippi) wouldn't permit it.

Jamie said...

Much has been made about the difficulty phonetic spellings present to a reader -- especially to someone unfamiliar with the dialect the writer is trying to present, but I'm curious about the books that have been written that way, AND have been translated into multiple foreign languages. Has anyone here read Huckleberry Finn French? Just curious.

CynthiaMc said...

Julie - I can relate. I watched the news this morning and thought "There goes my Civil War trilogy, dang it." It came close to selling several years ago. Well, pooh.

There really is no one Southern accent. In my home state of Alabama there is a coastal accent (my home) which is very soft and cultured, a mid-state accent which is more pronounced. The northern part of the state is more pronounced still and has more of what most people tend to think of as a Southern accent. My sister-in-law, from the hills of Kentucky, has a completely different accent.

I've learned to put on a fake Southern accent when I go to auditions. I was once told by a director from up north that I would have gotten a role in his production of Steel Magnolias except I "had no idea what a Southern accent sounded like."

Patricia Harvey said...

If I'm not mistaken, this subject relates to that most nebulous of concepts known as "voice." Particularly the difference between an author's voice and character's voice. The topic of voice is one I've heard agents and editors discuss at conferences without actually saying what they're looking for, except that want "fresh" ones. For writers, finding that voice can be like trying to pin down pixie dust. Along the way I've learned that getting to know one's characters more intimately can help define their voices. But author's voice, I'm less clear on.

Here's a source for learning the difference between authors' and characters' voices:

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I have two friends From Yorkshire England who were vacationing in NYC. While eating at a restaurant an American woman kept staring at them until curiosity killed the cat. This woman asked, "Do you really talk like that or are you faking it?" One of my friends said, "Yes, we really talk like that."

I spent lots of time in West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. Each of these places has distinct speech. Their beat and tone is different. People from the midwest claim no accent but they do have a distinct one.

Terri, Most non-English speakers I know do use contractions when speaking English. Perhaps it's the contemporary international English.

Anonymous said...

Patricia's link linkified:

Is authorial voice different from character voice?

Scott Sloan said...

kdjames – okay, now you got me all a fluster…
Which accents are you hearing?

Gingermollymarilyn said...

@ Julie Weathers - Loooove your little story. "Oh my, I do declare!" That "perfume" line is fabulous . . . and shocking!

The most attractive female southern accent? I don't know. I just love the southern charm of both men and women. The women, so coquettish, fussing over their hair and make-up, very aware of manners and still entrenched in the old-fashioned roles of courtship. Well, that's my perception, and that's what I like in my own life. I either watched too many movies when I was young, or was a Lady in the South in another lifetime!

I don't have a lot of experience, yet, writing with accents, etc., but as a reader I don't mind the dropped g's. I think after a while, they become invisible. I find this sort of thing also in person - getting used to someone's accent or speech impediment. After a few minutes, my brain shifts to their pattern.

Anonymous said...


Agreed. As I said earlier, I think it's the judicious use that makes the difference. Gabaldon doesn't attempt to recreate the language as you would hear it, but rather the impression of Scotland with select, consistently used words and phrases.

To me, good dialogue is never about how people really speak. It's the distilled essence of of speech patterns.

Scott, sorry, I couldn't read it. It reminds me too much of when I go back to Montana and some of my kin think they're being funny by trying to imitate me. Why people think this is necessary I don't know.

About the tenth time they mockingly ask me the proper way to say "y'all", I say. "You don't. You're a Yankee. The proper term for you is 'youse guys'." That usually ends the y'all debate.


I'm proceeding on with the story, but it's making me nervous.

"I've learned to put on a fake Southern accent when I go to auditions. I was once told by a director from up north that I would have gotten a role in his production of Steel Magnolias except I "had no idea what a Southern accent sounded like." "

That irks me. It reminds me of the time Dolly Parton entered a Dolly Parton look alike contest and lost to a drag queen.

I think she was a runner up, though. That should have made her feel better.

Scott Sloan said...

Jamie –

"Parfois, vous Gwyne à git blessé, parfois vous en Gwyne à git malades; mais chaque fois que vous de Gwyne git bien agin."

Oh, that's a Mastercard commercial waiting to be made…

Anonymous said...

Angie's right. Everyone has an accent. Even if your voice is completely unmarked or a drone, it's still an accent. It's still a manner of speaking which most likely says something about the person's background, whether it's that they were born somewhere, raised somewhere, educated somewhere, lived somewhere, or even just have a lot of friends from somewhere.

A non-drawl accent is still an accent, especially to someone who speaks with a drawl.

Thanks for the link, Patricia - great article!

Patricia Harvey said...

Jennifer R. Donohue, I'm from Central New Jersey, where accents are nothing like North Jersey or South Jersey. Just listen to Jon Stewart. He and I are from the same township.

Here's a YouTube video of a young man doing an "Accent Tag" for Central New Jersey. There are lots of these on YouTube. Very helpful to writers who need regional diction.

(If someone could tell me how to make the link go live, I would be grateful.)

Anonymous said...

Colin has a page devoted to 'how to hyperlink', but sometimes that doesn't work for YouTube links. Let's see if it will work for me:

YouTube video of a young man doing an Accent Tag for Central New Jersey

Patricia Harvey said...

Jennifer R. Donohue, I'm from Central New Jersey, where accents are nothing like North Jersey or South Jersey. Just listen to Jon Stewart. He's from a township between Trenton and Princeton.

Here's a YouTube video of a young man doing an "Accent Tag" for Central New Jersey. There are lots of these on YouTube - kind of helpful to writers looking for regional diction.

(If someone could tell me how to make the link go live, I would be grateful.)

Anonymous said...

Hey, it worked!

Use this format for a hyperlink

< a href=" take the spaces out and put the URL here " > this is where the blue text goes < /a >

Take the spaces out. All of them. Well, except in the blue text. The blue text can say anything you want, really.

Hope this helps. Maybe Colin will post his web page.

CynthiaMc said...

Julie - it irked me too. Now I just laugh about it.

So I'll work on my "end of the world as we know it" trilogy instead.

Anonymous said...

Scott, didn't mean to get you all a fluster. *snort* To me, it sounded like one character at the beginning and another later on when you were talking about Twain. And perhaps, might could be, another in the middle. Just a slightly different tone, different word choice.

Even though I've lived in the South far longer than I did in MN, where I was born and raised, I probably still have Midwesterner ears and shouldn't be taken too seriously on topics relating to the South (or anything else). But I really do find accents and dialects fascinating, and challenging to write. So I listen, every chance I get.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

'Youse guys' are just too flippin' funny with your southern accents. Talk about NC and all the different ways they say the same thing, y'all should head to downeast Maine. Oh sorry you can't get they'ya from...well you know the rest. Ay'up.

Catherine Thackery said...

As usual, I'm late to the party. I normally read the comments then move on since everyone is usually gone by the time I get here, but this made me chuckle:

"About the tenth time they mockingly ask me the proper way to say "y'all", I say. "You don't. You're a Yankee. The proper term for you is 'youse guys'." That usually ends the y'all debate."

That is BRILLIANT. It reminded me of my young Bostonian cousin's first visit. She told me I talked funny. I explained she was south of the Mason-Dixon line and she was the one with the funny accent.

A female spy MC sounds intriguing. Go with it.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Patricia: I was born in Neptune (adjacent to Bruce Springsteen territory!) and graduated Wall High School. Belmar, Manasquan, etc. were the beaches I tended to frequent. I haven't the time to listen to all of the Central Jersey tags thing, but I heard a VERY familiar pronunciation of "coupons" (especially since I was a cashier and Customer Service Supervisor at Foodtown.....) ^^ So Central and the Shore share a lot of dialectics, I daresay.

(also, might some of Janet's "Britishisms" come from association with the CEO of Fine Print, Peter Rubie? He came across my radar today)

Anonymous said...

No luck with youtube videos. Sh!t Southern Women Say

Mildly amusing.

I bought a book some years ago called A Southern Belle Primer: Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma, that gives a great insight into Southern attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Julie's YouTube link:

Sh%t Southern Women Say

(Colin, where are you? I have to go to a meeting soon, and someone else will need to take over linking duties...)

Anonymous said...

Jennifer: I've met Mr Rubie. He has nice understated accent... as well as being a very nice guy.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

Just to add to the argument that it's diction, not phonics, that matters--

One of my biggest pet peeves is when books/movies have characters that speak English as a second language, yet NEVER MAKE strange word choices, structure their sentences oddly, struggle to think of the right word, or other signals that show they're thinking in different language.

I learned Portuguese as a kid and, as most kids do, learned to speak it with a perfect Brazilian accent--but languages are so rich with expressions we don't even realize it until we try to directly translate something from the language we think in to the language we're speaking in, and the other person looks bewildered.

Using diction to show how someone thinks and where they're from is really, really hard. But that's why writing is a craft with always more to learn.

Joseph S. said...

Spiraling off topic here: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café actually takes place in Irondale, Alabama, not Georgia. The Whistle Stop Café’s true name is the Irondale Café. I can see it being a whistle stop on the way from Atlanta to Birmingham back in the day (though today Irondale is on the outskirts of Birmingham).

You have to drive under three ornate railroad bridges to get there. They are pretty cool. Seeing the railroad tracks next to the café will make you smile, too.

I teach in Alabama. Brazilians have found their way to our campus from time to study. In the past four years three separate Brazilians out of the blue mentioned to me how much they liked the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Each was surprised and overjoyed to hear the book was based on a place in Birmingham. A couple made a pilgrimage to the café as though it were a shrine. Had to eat fried green tomatoes there.

I know how they feel. One of the characters in the book lived on Rhodes Circle, a three block long street built in a circle. I lived on Rhodes Circle when I read the book. I got a thrill from seeing my street in print.

Being curious about Fannie Flagg’s not dropping g’s, I pulled up the preview. I did find one dropped g: “I’ve enjoyed talkin’ to you.” and a sprinkling of hafto, kinda, cain’t, y’hear’s; and a whole potful of phrasings that sound southern but may not be.
As to the original question, I think saying pork chops and gravy – maybe grits and possum- puts you in the southern mood more than the dropped g. I’m just sayin’.

Unknown said...

Best Southern accent for a woman is Texas. I'm biased, having married a Texan. I especially love the way everyone in my Rhode Island family tries to make my her say things like oil ("awl" doesn't even begin to describe it) so we can all fall over laughing. But I don't know about all this southern accent charm. I'm thinking about the sound of a native from Cranston (heavy emphisis on the annnns sound). Now that is voice.

Anonymous said...

What a day this has been. Y'all are the best. I wanted to say how much I appreciate all of you.

Janet, especially you. It's been a long old road. Thank you, my friend.

CynthiaMc said...

Fannie Flagg is a frequent visitor to my home town. Rumor has it that she wrote Fried Green Tomatoes while living there. I haven't lived back home (meaning Fairhope) in many years so I can't confirm the rumor but I can point out the house, a gorgeous old one on a cliff overlooking Mobile Bay. She can often be spotted at the Page and Palette (my favorite book and art supply store). A friend of mine from here (Orlando) was visiting there (Fairhope ) and saw her. He posted that he saw her. I said to tell her I said hi. He's from up north. He wouldn't do it. And that is the difference between the north and the south.

CynthiaMc said...

Here's an interview with Fannie from back home.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm off to work soon so I just want to say one more thing about accents. If it's covered far up the line sorry, had to skim most. Today's word-fest...awesome.

Anyway, by the time I was twenty I had lived in 27 different houses which encompassed five states and many different regions within those states. Kids always asked if my father was in the military, I told them he was a fugitive. (The show was popular back then.)

Because we traveled so much, (12 schools), I do not have an accent, well I almost do not have an accent but for a few word/leftovers from being a Jersey girl - an Elizabeth, New Jersey/Soprano country Jersey girl. Such a tiny state and yet within it's borders the accents vary greatly, so do the attitudes.
My mother was raised in Connecticut. CT really does not have an accent, all my Jersey friends thought she was from Germany.

My point, not sure, other than IMHO accents are best expressed by whole/word usage rather than by word/ectomies. Readers don't like clever writers, they like writers who write so cleverly they don't notice just how clever they are.

Lance said...

Just to be clear, go to to see that the Pig is still with us. The Savannah accent is distinct from those of the rest of the state. Just as the New Orleans accent sounds less southern than you would expect.

DLM said...

Angie, but the Midwest doesn't have a single accent either. It's a HUGE area to even consider as one region, and the immigrant history is varied, so the vocal outcomes in different areas have very distinctive flavors.

Ginger, I think you're the goods, but ... "The women, so coquettish, fussing over their hair and make-up, very aware of manners and still entrenched in the old-fashioned roles of courtship. Well, that's my perception" makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I've never met this fussy creature in my life, she is no Southerner I ever met. Mind you, there are entrenchments galore, but they may not be what you'd expect. And, as to coiffure - "jacked up to Jesus" really was a thing (or, if you like Southern Culture on the Skids - Liquored Up and Lacquered Down).

Jennifer R. D., when I grew up, the word spelled coupon was pronounced Q-pon. I still get hives over KOO-pon, but it's taken over the world.

My favorite grocery was in Cheraw, SC. Visiting my grammaw, we'd stop in at the BI-LO. Had a big cow. Fantastic. I don't think I've ever seen a Piggly Wiggly, but for many years a Good White Christian family named Ukrop owned the chain that dominated the lands. The stores were bought out, but their bakeries, thank goodness, remain.

Joseph S. said...

Lance and DLM

I can walk to the Pig. Nice little grocery store. Itis not too far from the local TV stations. Every time the weatherman predicts snow, an internal bell goes off and the world descends on the Pig for milk and bread. Needing video for the 6:00 o'clock news, the TV cameras also descend on the Pig. It's a Birmingham tradition.