Screenwriting : How to handle accents? by Mark Souza

Mark Souza

How to handle accents?

How do you recommend handling a character's accent in a screenplay? Do you just note that the character, say, has a Germanic accent in the beginning. Or do you phonetically spell it out in his/her dialogue?

John Casu

Write the dialogue straight, mention the accent in the description (as detailed as you like), then let the actor do her job. But if you want your character to say their ain'ts, thee's and thine's (a la Whedon), you need to write those down.

Gregory Moss

Great question, Mark! As a general rule - I would never phonetically spell out a character's accent - as this would make the read unnecessarily awkward. If he or she is German, then just stating this in the initial character description would suffice. Unless it was a non-Germanic character doing a German accent - then I would simply state this too. Hope this helps! :)

Thom Williams (FilmKiller)

I would not phonetically spell it out, but note it as you said (reading a script with a German speaking with Vs for Ws would get old really fast unless it mattered; think Chekov in the new Star Trek: "Wictor, wictor, etc. - yes I know he's doing a Russian Ws for Vs...). However, I would be sure to include slang specific from wherever your accented character hails.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Mark, when working with dialects and/or accents, sprinkle in tidbits and some phonetically spelled words, just to give a taste -- a sense of regional influence. But, make sure it is easy to read. Also, whatever you do, make sure you are consistent throughout that character's dialog. Adding some hint in the character description, or even the use of a strong, regional name can help create a "sound" for that character in the reader's mind. I hope that helps. :)

Barbara A Bauer

I would advise against writing it in unless you have a native speaker of that accent to help/edit, because it's not just in the pronunciation, but in syntax, images, idioms. Try to find a native who will add those specifics, otherwise leave it up to the actor/director.

Rich Burlingham

I tend to tell writers just alert the reader in the description what type of accent and just write it straight unless there are certain words or phrases that need to be heard in a certain way and then bold those and write them however you feel will make the reader or the actor understand how it should be pronounced. A screenplay is simply a blue print to let others know what needs to be filmed and unless it's in there it won't be filmed.

Jenny Deason Copeland

Personally, I phonetically write it out. I think that it gives more flavor to the read. Just my opinion though.

John Casu

Exactly... If you say Yorkshire accent, what does that even mean? The Hull accent is more clipped than the Barnsley or Bradford accent or the harder Sheffield accent. Does the Middlebrough accent count, even though that town hasn't been part of Yorkshire since the 60s ?

Eoin O'Sullivan

What the character says, is more important than having it spelled out phonetically. It's an actors job to nail the accent and inflections etc correctly. It's the writers job to understand colloquialisms and things that made a characters voice geographical. For example, Irish people say, 'I'm going stay here.' People from parts of the UK say, 'I'm going to stop here.'

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey all, another point to consider is; why bother giving your character an accent and then not use it? Each character's dialog, or voice, needs to be unique from the others. Each needs to pop from the page. If all your characters sound the same then you've got a problem. Use just a taste of an accent, little tidbits. Use dialect. Try to be authentic. Think like the Coen brothers!!! Even when all their characters are from the same place, each one has a distinct voice! For example, I wrote a script where the story takes place in Minnesota, so I added little phonetic hints like; "yah" instead of "yeah" or "hon" instead of "hun" to give a sense of region. Personally, if I read a script and the writer describes a character as someone from a distinct region that has a strong dialect or accent and that quality is not in the dialog, then I'm done. What a waste of a fantastic opportunity. We all wish to write strong characters. So, if you add flavorful attributes, then use 'em!

Eoin O'Sullivan

@Jacqueline - Good question. If a character was described as Irish and they say 'aye', it would indicate that they are from the North. People from the South of other ways of saying yes, specific to what county they are from.

Vienna Avelares

Funny you ask; one of the characters in one of my scripts is German (has a German accent), It was recommended to me to read: Dr. Format, tells all. It was extremely helpful.

Mark Souza

Wow, thanks everyone. This has been very helpful (I have a little rewriting to do).

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