Writing What You Hear – Dialect & Accents

There is a character in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, who is Mexican.  For a minor character, Lucia is one of my favorites.  She’s smart, classy, and in charge of all that goes on around her.  In short, she’s the perfect foil for her boss, the intelligent, elegant divorcée, Prudence Mayfield.

Prudence is nobody’s fool, but Lucia keeps her in check when needed. She pulls no punches with her employer and sometimes their conversation is quite spirited. My initial attempts at writing a Mexican dialect were hilarious and amateur. I needed to find a way to convey Lucia’s nationality without her dialog sounding cheesy or offensive.

Assistance came from a video on Howcast by voice and speech coach Andrea Caban. My mistake was that I never consider the posture of the mouth or the musicality of the dialect when writing for Lucia. The breathy S sound at the end of words, the hard R sound, and the nasally tone were exactly what I wanted for my character. How could I put that on paper without writing ridiculous phonetic spellings that would drive the reader insane?  By describing Lucia’s accent.

Originally, the only phonetic spelling I was going to use was jew for every time she said you.  I have since decided against this so I don’t offend potential readers.  Still, when I read Lucia’s comments out loud, I always do so in her accent. I’m confident the suggestions employed helped me to better express her dialect on the written page.  Please share your experience writing a foreign character’s dialect.

Recommended sites for writing dialect/accents:

How To Do a Mexican Accent

The Dos and Don’ts of Dialect

Andrea Caban – Dialect Coach

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