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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Writing in tongues. (Part 2)

I recently read an interesting article about fantasy writing on the BBC magazine site. 
The article, titled ‘Why are fantasy world accents British?’ looks primarily at TV shows and film, and explores the peculiar phenomenon of why most fantasy characters speak with Brittish accents, but its arguments and logic can equally as well be applied to the written word.

The article gives examples of the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series, taken from the books of the American author George RR Martin, and the blockbusting ‘Lord of the Rings’ and upcoming ‘Hobbit’ films in support of its argument.
I think it does make a compelling case for appropriate regional accents, and it goes someway towards explaining why America audiences in particular, and the world in general, seem to like British-English voices in their fantasy fiction.

I read this article not long after receiving the news that one of my own short-stories written in my native Scottish vernacular (that I posted about before) is likely to be published in an upcoming anthology of ‘Scottish Voice’ stories. On reading the article I was reminded of the overwhelmingly positive response a draft version my own story got from American readers when I posted it to a critique site...

It seems that many non-Britons seem to have a rather quant ‘oldie-worldy’ view of the place. And I’m certainly not going to say the history isn’t here, I have at least two castles within walking distance of my (18th century) house. But it is still very much a first-world country and we don’t all constantly toss cabers, eat haggis, or wear kilts... well, except the kilt-wearing at weddings that is. I think I read somewhere that more Scottish kilts have now been sold in North America than ever were in Scotland.
Anyway, I digress... My point was that there is a historical setting for at least the medieval type fantasy adventure to take place in a historic British type environment, and many are loosely based on our rather turbulent history. Of course these could equally as well be set in medieval Europe or the middle-east, but the British accents are generally seen as more palatable for a primarily American, then a wider world, audience.

And that leads me on to the other thing I’ve noticed. Although the Brittish accent seems to be more widely accepted for specific types of fiction, and characters, other accents still seem to be neglected, or even looked down upon. These are often only ever used for very specific, and stereotypical, comedy or one-dimensional character-building effects.
Does this attitude stop other writers from using their native accent when writing?

There is a relatively healthy thrust to keep the ‘Scottish voice’ alive in Scotland. And there are outlets for this type of writing, fact and fiction. But can the same be said for regional American accents? Being Scottish I don’t know, but I do seem to hear a ‘standard’ American accent in most mainstream American TV and movies. Is this purely for ease of understanding, like our old ‘Queens English’ announcers on the BBC? Things have changed rapidly within British broadcasting and differing regional accents can now be heard on practically any program type you can think of, including the news. I think that’s a good thing, but I also think books are a good few yers behind other media in this respect.

We are constantly being told to write ‘properly’ and that seems to entail writing to a standard.
I understand spelling is important, but can’t that importance still have an impact in writing where it is bent into a regional dialect shape, and not just talking about a smattering of  ‘direct speech’ here and there.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about this too recently! I am a dual citizen of the US and UK and I'm uniquely endowed with both natural accents having learned to speak in the US, and then been in the UK between ages 3 and 12. Most of my characters speak in english accents because the world I've built is largely based on the folklore from the area I grew up in, and european historical themes. I have some characters that I think would be way more interesting with scottish accents, however, and I would love to learn how to write a dialect effectively. I can just about hear an accent in my head when I read your writing. :) I'd love your help!