Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hear Your Voice

Lisa: If your character has a distinct regional accent is it necessary to write their dialogue 'in accent' or enough to say where they are from?

Good question. A lot of scripts just say where the characters are from, or will state that a certain character has an accent, but not make much of a big deal of it in the dialogue. And that’s okay, that can work, but it is much more enjoyable to see the distinctive dialogue in play. It can give so much more colour and texture to a character (or characters) if they speak with individual voices that are clearly identifiable in the script.

Let’s say one of your main characters is a Geordie lad. Immediately, this gives him a distinct vernacular in which he will express himself. For example, instead of saying: “I’ll do anything for a fiver”, a Geordie bloke will say: “I’ll do ‘owt for a fiver, man”. And if you have this kind of dialogue in the script, then it’s going to give the character and the story some pace and humour, especially if he’s the only Geordie in the flick. If the film’s about a group of Geordies, then they will all speak in their particular dialect but it should be down on paper as much as possible so that the reader gets a sense of authenticity and tone from what they’re saying.

Look at The Wire. Every person’s character is clear and defined, and they all speak with a distinctive voice, using the unique slang and vernacular of the Baltimore streets. The writers must have a blast putting down Omar’s dialogue, or Bunk’s, or Bodie’s or any of the smart-ass street kids. You don’t need a Baltimore ear to follow their words but listening to them speak gives them and their world so much more texture and credibility, not to mention humour. And it’s not just gangsta talk either, some of it is given a neat or elegant turn of phrase, witness this exchange at a tense gun stand-off: “I see you favor a 45.” Omar: "At night I do. And I keeps one in the chamber in case you ponderin'.”

So, in answer to your question: yes, by all means, write in the character’s regional accent or particular turn of phrase. It will add so much more to your script than others who try but give it the usual bland clich├ęs and exchanges.

4 comments:

Lucy said...

I definitely agree, Danny. Whilst writing everything a character says with a regional dialect will do the reader's head in royally (especially if they're not from a particular place, since they won't necessarily understand), bits here and there are always cool and I never see them enough.

A writer can take this further too - from my own reading I got frustrated when I saw "(in German/Spanish/Chinese)" etc as a parenthetical all the time, so when writing my own specs I decided that I would actually use the native language here and there if a character was meant to be foreign. I think this really works - as long as not whole scenes go on like this, obviously.

As always tho, be cautious - I decided to give Slovakian a go and managed to find probably the only Slovakian script reader in the whole of bloody London, who delighted in telling me that where I had MEANT to write, "Jesus Christ, what the hell happened to you?", it actually read as "You must wear a hell shirt for Jesus"!

Oli said...

Off on a tangent of Geordie dialect: "us" means "me" and "we" means "us". Which I know wasn't really what the post was about, but I like trivia.

Lisa said...

Thanks Danny. That's answered my question a treat.

Michael said...

I agree. I'm from Derby, and am always writing characters from the East Midlands (in the hope that we might actually see them represented on radio and telly sometime!). "Me dad told me ter get the flowers fer Mum's birthdee" is a very different line to "My dad told me to get the flowers for Mum's birthday" (for example).