Hey all! I’m Sasha Hope, an upcoming author with NineStar Press and an avid wordsmith. I studied linguistics at university and love learning languages so I wanted to talk about ways I research and incorporate language in my writing.
The most research I‘ve ever done was for a literary novel I’ve currently got cooking on a back burner. One of the main characters is a Louisiana Creole Speaker which offered a challenge and a great opportunity to research. Since other people might be interested, I’m jotting down some primers on developing a character’s voice. Language is such an important part of a character’s identity and it sometimes goes underappreciated in writing. During my research process I came up with these four points and I thought they’d be fun to share:
Dialect. Accent. Language.
I tend to avoid overdoing accents and I especially don’t like reading a novel where words are spelt wrong to convey accent (ie. “Who dem folks over der?” or “Wot ah you talkin’ ‘bout?”). Someone with whatever accent this is supposed to be (it’s my example and I don’t even know) would probably find it offensive. If you think their th’s sound like d’s they probably think your d’s sound like th’s. So I avoid writing accents in this format, especially for a main character.
Then there’s dialect! This is something I always consider. Sometimes it feels kind of obvious, but it depends. I know as a reader, it can be jarring when a character who is supposed to be from, let’s say, the 1950s uses words that aren’t going to be coined until the 1970s. And if a character speaks AAVE, their grammar structure will be different from a Queen’s English speaker. That’s all dialect.
My character speaks Louisiana French Creole and AAVE so it’s important that I don’t pick up on stereotypes about those accents and dialects when writing but actually learn what the grammar rules are. So I research structures and speech patterns and don’t just throw a few “y’all”s in here and there… although there are definitely some “y’all”s… I’m not gonna lie, y’all.
Find examples of natural speech.
I really try to engage with the language or accent to find common turns of phrase or colloquialisms. My favourite source is YouTube! While researching for this Creole character, I found an old Cajun comedian to get context on how my character might sound. I was even able to find a few home videos, like a Louisiana local’s recording of her grandmother telling a story in Creole. She was about the age that my character would have been now, so I can assume that her speech patterns would be similar. Reading novels or diaries written by people who speak the same dialect as my character also helped create an authentic voice that is linguistically and historically accurate.
Know the language.
Okay this one isn’t very fair or achievable in most cases, but it’s important. If I didn’t already know Québécois/French, I probably wouldn’t have added this characters language into the novel to the extent that I did. If I don’t know the language or dialect well and don’t have time to research it, I try to avoid representing it in my work. That being said, in another of my WIP stories I have a few Russian characters. I often get a Russian friend to look over any language I use because I don’t know enough Russian to confidently jam it in. So there you have it! It’s as easy as getting a native speaker’s opinion if you feel the language use is necessary.
But is it necessary?
With everything I’m putting into a novel I ask myself this question. For dialect and slang, that answer is yes, always, at least a little. But if a character speaks another language, do I need to actually write it out with translations? There are two ways I go about it. Here’s an example:
“Mon Dieu! My God!” she exclaimed.
“My God!” she exclaimed in French.
The first option is great, but a character could have a second language and speak it fluently throughout the novel and the work I have to do for research is cut way down by simply taking that second option. It’s personal taste! But I do enjoy the research and the challenge!
Anywho, that’s my process! Thanks for reading and if you’re looking to include a second language in your novel I hope this helps!
Sasha Hope is a lover of story, art and design based in Canada. As a writer and an artist, she enjoys having the opportunity to create new characters and build new worlds for readers to explore. Having studied linguistics and a myriad of languages from a young age, she is passionate about including characters of different backgrounds in her work. Whether the setting is fantasy or reality, she believes that a diverse cast with diverse languages and cultures is a wonderful thing.
Crafting stories that embrace MM romance and erotica is her modus operandi. When she is not creating new worlds she is travelling this one looking for inspiration or enjoying her career in the videogame industry.
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