That is the question.
In the latest Pa’adhe short story, The Mercenaries, currently making its rounds through my Alpha and Beta readers, I had set up one character with an accent. I wanted to experiment with accents and see how hard writing an accent might be and to see if I could make it work.
Short answer to my experiment: All Alphas disliked it.
Naturally, that meant everywhere it was used had to be pulled and replaced with understandable English. That’s not really a problem in itself, but it was definitely a disappointment. I plan to do additional reading and see if I can understand why using an accent seems to work for some and why it doesn’t for others. I know of one other author that just recently implemented an accent in his novel and when it was released there was a backlash, so obviously it’s a risk. Yet, there definitely are other novels out there that successfully make use of an accent. How? Are they real accents or pseudo-accents? I want to know.
It was interesting to see the feedback spanning the whole gamut…of dislike.
While all Alphas disliked it, the perception varied from being a minor inconvenience to being a major interference.
Those that considered it minor complained that it slowed them down when that character spoke, though admittedly it did get better the more they read it. However, they never got up to the speed of reading the other characters. That alone is sufficient for me to pull it: I don’t want my readers to have to slow down when reading, I want them to gleefully go running full tilt down the hill.
In some ways it’s kind of ironic at the other cusp of the pendulum’s swing. At that end of the spectrum the complaint was actually that it was too thick an accent. I had a character with a thick accent! I kind of like that, but this is also where the Alphas were actually having to stop reading and re-read what the character said, in one case several times, before they understood what he said.
And that, as all writers know, is bad. Dangerously so.
As to the accent itself, I had only three rules and I followed them faithfully. First, I took one letter and replaced it with another that still allowed the word to be made out, which meant that original letter was not in their lexicon. Second, anywhere a word ended with an ‘e’ it got replaced with an ‘a’ as in ‘the’ becomes ‘tha’. There was one last rule related to the first in instances where the “lost” letter was followed by another vowel. This was all predetermined and carefully laid out, complete with examples for each rule, in both my working notes and my “encyclopedia” prior to having that character talk that way.
Unfortunately, I apparently picked a letter that turned out to be way too prevalent in what that character said. I had no problem writing and reading it, but I was the one doing the writing so I had a reverse translation automatically going on. I didn’t notice just how thick that made the accent until I went back to change it. There were some sentences where only two words were in English, everything else was changed. It was quite readable to me, of course, but thankfully my Alphas objected.
As I said, this was an experiment, and my Alphas say unanimously this experiment failed. ‘Nuff said.
For now, it’s crossed out in my notes and encyclopedia because, as I have said time and again, I never throw away any of my notes or writing any more. One way or another I keep them. Someday I’ll return to this and try it again, but with different rules that maybe keep the accent from being too thick. Or maybe just a different control letter.
I’m glad I did it, though, as I’ve learned quite a bit from this experiment. Experimenting with your writing is fun and worthwhile, but only if you can learn something from it. Try it but be prepared to pull it.