1. beehoney

    beehoney Member

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    How to write a character with strong French accent?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by beehoney, Jan 16, 2018.

    Hello Community,


    Short question: How can I write the dialogue when I got a character with strong French accent. I knew to write no h (e.g. Harry to ’arry). And I know that th comes to z. Sometimes say French words. Do you have more tips


    Can you please help.

    Bye,

    beehoney
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I would strongly recommend against either of those. You could mention that the character has an accent, and if the character is not fluent in English use word choices or phrasing that would be used by a native French speaker who is not completely fluent in English. But trying to duplicate the accent phonetically is IMO not a good idea.
     
  3. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    Would be a little stereotypical, and in my opinion odd to have the character say "zat" instead of "that". I'm French but pronounce "that" correctly. I think @ChickenFreak is right. You're better off describing the character and getting the reader to understand that the character is French in contrast to constantly reminding through stereotypical dialogue.
     
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  4. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Agreed that writing it out Fleur Delacour style isn't the best. I have a French character and in doing his dialogue, I've just made it cleat that he is French. I think the reader can probably assume from that alone that he has a French accent. I also have him drop snippets of French into his speech, sometimes - mostly when he either wants to speak in confidence to others who speak French around those who don't, or just annoy those who don't. But that's just because he's kind of an asshole like that ;) From what I understand people who're fluent in multiple languages don't really 'accidentally' slip into their mother tongue or typically hold onto phrases in their native language when otherwise speaking the secondary one.

    If this is a character with a particularly strong accent, you might omit bits of dialogue entirely if they're difficult for the POV character to understand. If it's not a strong accent and they're completely clear, I wouldn't really make much of a deal out of it - just let the reader know that they're French and have an accent to some degree.
     
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  5. raine_d

    raine_d Active Member

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    Totally agree, it always screams Allo Allo to me. Which I doubt is the image you are aiming for....
     
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  6. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    And I'm also in agreement that you do not want to have your French character speaking butchered English.
    French sentence structure differs from English, so explore that approach some and use as many French words that are instantly recognizable to English speaking readers as you possibly can.
     
  7. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Only if you insist on transcribing precisely how your character sounds. If you do that, you should do it with all the words, which is quite annoying to read. But, again, are you really so familiar with the way a French person sounds? It's very easy to go wrong here and enter comedy territory. And being offensive and all that. The cop out is to write the dialogue completely normal, and only explain afterwards that the speaker had mispronounced certain words:
    " 'Hello Harry' Francois said. She was dropping the aitches but John found that cute."
    or this way:
    " 'Hello Harry' Francois said, which actually sounded 'ello 'arry. He giggled. "
    Is that how you've heard French people speak, or is this an impression you got from movies (or you've read it somewhere?)
     
  8. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    [/QUOTE] Is that how you've heard French people speak, or is this an impression you got from movies (or you've read it somewhere?)[/QUOTE]

    Undoubtedly movies :superlaugh:
     
  9. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Karen is writing just such a character. I agree, keep the accent to a minimum. French uses more definite articles than English, so onemight say "I will go make the dinner," while an English speaker might drop the "the". Little things like that. Pauses for uncommon words, "I was going to buy ... how to say? les fers m à cheval ?... horse shoes." Less is more on this. Also depends on how well the person speaks English. Karen's character speaks very well, so it is just a veneer of French ways of speaking, which is hard to break. On the other hand, if they have a lot of trouble with the language, then more of the accent may be appropriate, especially if the story involves misunderstands or difficulty in communicating.
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think accents in dialog is never as good of an idea as it seems. I agree with the others and think you are much better off describing your character's accent than showing it to us and hoping we can decipher the code.
     
  11. graveleye

    graveleye Senior Member

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    Many of my characters are from the deep south, so what I will sometimes do is to write a short line of dialog in accent, without going overboard of course, then transition back into regular non accented dialog. The subsequent dialog then seems to have the accent as well because the voice was established. It seems to work for what I've been writing and I've seen other authors do it similarly.
    An entire dialog in accent would be incredibly annoying to my tastes though.
     
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  12. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    One thing I notice people seem to do a lot is drop really basic French into their dialogue, probably because English-speaking readers would know what it means. However, this makes no sense, as someone who can hold a conversation with English-speaking characters surely wouldn't have any difficulty with "hello". Also be aware that "bonjour" is a formal greeting. If they were speaking to a friend, they would say "salut". I agree with Lew about the difficult French words (helps if you speak French, try translating some French idioms literally or something similar) and structure, and with the general consensus that the road to Hell is paved with spelled-out accents.
     
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  13. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    This also depends on the dialect of french your character speaks or where they grew up. Where I'm at, french people frequently pronounce 'H' with a sharp, back of the throat sound that's somewhere between a hiss and the sound a cat makes when it's sneezing up a hairball. Even then, though, this doesn't apply to all words. I would suggest, if you know where your character came from, to go online and listen to some people speaking French from that area to get a feel for the language before you try putting it on page.
     
  14. Mink

    Mink Contributor Contributor

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    I also advise against writing out every word with the accent or even any words. You can mention that accent, if you want. I generally like what Stephen King does where the words are written out in proper (or semi-proper) English, but then there will be some sort of note in the description.

    Something like: "They had better come," he said, only it came out as Day 'ad bettah...

    (Not an actual quote from the book because my books are all packed up until Monday; I just can't find one online that shows what I want.)

    After what was written above, only certain words are mentioned as being pronounced differently, likely to keep the reader speaking in that character's voice when reading the dialogue, but possibly because not everyone thinks certain words are accented.

    I also agree with the suggestions on researching the local accent of where your character is from. Like the U.S., accents change from place to place. My friend from France has a somewhat thick accent and I've never heard it in a movie or written out in a book.
     
  15. Claire Tarkari

    Claire Tarkari New Member

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    Watch a few French movies and note down mannerisms and characteristics unique to the language. Off the top of my head, I can think of hand gestures and also when they say 'no?' at the end of a sentence which isn't neccasily a question. Describing these things will help the reader hear a French accent more than just telling them it's there.
     
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  16. JDBrooks

    JDBrooks New Member

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    A creative writing teacher I had suggested that the best way to characterize a heavy accent is to introduce the character with the standard spelling of how it would sound with the accent, and then within the first few lines of dialogue, let it drop and revert back to English, with occasional phrases in the native tongue peppered in to reinforce the nationality. The initial spelling affect will stick in the readers mind even when you shift to standard English.

    I like that, it makes it easier to write for that character and gets the job done.
     
  17. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Active Member

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    Could do worse than take a look at The Da Vinci Code at how Dan Brown does this for his plethora of French characters. Normal English speech with the occasional word or phrase in French. I think less is more in this case, too much would become annoying to read pretty quickly.
     
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  18. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Loved by a Sweet lady. :) Supporter Contributor

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    I think the best way to convey accent and keep it without constantly
    beating the reader over the head with it, is to establish it early on
    and have them keep specific dialogue traits. Such as a simple word,
    phrase, or occasionally using small bits of their native tongue that
    can be easily understood even if the reader is not a speaker of that
    language. It doesn't have to be a gratuitous thing pushed to the front
    every time the character says something, lest they become a caricature
    of what you had originally intended. :)
     
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  19. Aaron Smith

    Aaron Smith Contributor Contributor

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    Half of the book "All the Light We Cannot See" is about a French family, but it's written in English. Not only is it a truly fantastic book, but it answers your question. :)
     
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