Thursday, January 27, 2011

To brogue or not to brogue

One of the things I came across with the release of my first medieval scottish romance was the conversations/comments that popped up with regards to the accents and, of course, that all-controversial scottish brogue. Now, I read a lot of historical romance, everything from the dark middle ages through to regency, but I've never really given this much thought. Some books I've loved, some I hated, some were so, so, and to be honest, my memory's not good enough to recall how little or how much accent the characters had and whether that might have somehow figured in my reading experience.

So, I did a little digging into what everyone was saying about everyone else's books and there seems to be a split between love or hate - and very little in between. There are those who swoon at a hero's scottish brogue and those who feel as if their teeth are being scraped with chalk. Some suggestions to "tell" the brogue instead of "show" it

e.g. "I can't say," Rowan said with a husky burr.
As opposed to "I canna say," Rowan said.

In Betrayed, I use a good amount of brogue, although I go easy on the main characters who occupy most of the dialogue to make the reading easier. My heroine is English, so she's not an issue. My hero, on the other hand... take a look-see...
    “Ye have my word,” Krayne reassured his cousin. “I gave the order before I left Wamphray. No more moonlight riding fer my lads.”

and sometimes my hand's a little heavier...
   “That I’d use a woman as fair trade fer my cousin?” he finished. “If ye didna involve yourself in a man’s affairs ta begin with, I wouldna have ta barter ye ta the Jardin.”

When it came to one of my secondary characters, the villian, I used heavy brogue to flavour his character, but his on-page role is sparse and so this kind of intense dialogue brogue occurs in tiny doses, otherwise it would cause quite a headache...
   “Spittin’ ’ell, woman!” William swung his beefy frame around, slicing his finger open on the spear’s sharp tip as he did so. “Christ,” he growled, licking at the line of swelling blood as he set a scowling gaze on her. “Have ye no more sense than ta creep up on a mon?”

And, I'm not sure... is the presence of a brogue worse, the same or better than no brogue? Perhaps it doesn't matter? Do your eyes cross over? Do you feel cheated if you read a scottish romance without it?


Nicole North said...

Fantastic post and great question!! I also write Scottish romance and have wrestled with this question. At first I used a fair amount, but then an editor asked me to remove the dialect on a revision. After that, I realized I didn't actually need a lot of the unusually spelled Scots words to give the flavor of the speech. I love to be able to hear it in my head. I like a medium amount. Too much and it can be distracting; too little or none and it doesn't seem like a Scottish historical. :)

Patricia Preston said...

I think a little is good to give your reader a feel for the sound of the character's accent.

Claire Robyns said...

Nicola, now my editor loved the brogue and flavour it added, and the changes she asked for were to make it consistant and not neccessarily less.

Patricia, I agree that a little touch is probably a good compromise.

I admit that some of the comments I came across have scared me off and I've removed almost everything from the historical I'm currently working on. Which is what kind of inspired this question - not sure if I'm going to regret doing that and right now there's still time to change my mind :)

Susanna Fraser said...

I definitely take the "less is more" view when it comes to dialect and accents, mostly because I was raised in Alabama, and nothing makes me more annoyed than Southern accents either badly written or used to show the speaker is stupid or uneducated. I don't trust my ear for other accents to be any better than your average non-Southerner's ear for the speech of my childhood, so I err on the side of standard English for everyone.

All just MHO, of course.

Patricia Preston said...

Susanna, My family is from Alabama and I live in Mississippi. We may sound alike! LOL!

Taryn Kincaid said...

Usually, dialect doesn't bother me much unless it is so poorly done or so strange I can't make heads or tails of it. One of my favorite writers, James Lee Burke, sets his Dave Robicheaux detective series in New Orleans and environs and occasionally it's hard to decipher the Cajun of the minor characters that add texture and depth. But, generally, you can pick up the gist and I really love the way it plays on my ears.
In Healing Hearts, I probably used "'tis" quite a bit more often than strictly necessary. Mindful that many readers might find it distracting, my wonderful editor reined me in!

Susanna Fraser said...

What part of Alabama, Patricia? I'm from just south of Birmingham. Of course, I haven't lived there for more than a few months at a time since I was 18, and my accent has worn off during my years in Philly, England, and Seattle. My husband tells me I get much more Southern when yelling at a football game, though. And I still say "y'all," "fixing to," and "might could" in my generic American jumble of an everyday accent.

Wendy Soliman said...

I agree with the less is more theory. Just a little to set the tone but not enough that it slows the story down because the reader doesn't understand what's being said!

Claire Robyns said...

Oh, yes, and I suppose the same argument would apply to foreign languages when English is not the character's first language. The odd endearment or curse is great, because one can easily determine the emotion at the time of it being said. I have read some British authors who tend to use French quite liberally in their contemporaries and, as I don't speak French, this becomes annoying - although not to the point where I've stopped reading that author

Gina Rossi said...

Tricky one this. The writer might think her hero's brogue is sexy, but to the reader, he might come across as a bit of a yokel. So, it's more to do with the way it's read, rather than how it's written - which is why I prefer 'telling' the accent / dialect. Keep it light and subtle and the message should come across.
I agree with Claire: too much foreign language is annoying and I feel like the writer is telling me how clever they are!
Re foreign languages / accents, European & UK writers need to be especially considerate towards the American market, where these elements may be unfamiliar.

Judy Croome said...

I canna possibly read a Scottish historical withou' a brogue in sight!

As a reader who loves the old type Scottish historicals (where men where real men, especially in their kilts!) I enjoy having the Scottish brogue. My pet aversion is when an author takes contemporary style and just plonks it down in a historical setting.

I read Betrayed and found the accents added to the authenticity of the story, so I do hope Claire puts the accents back into her latest WIP.

Anyone read the utterly brilliant Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale? The heroine was a Quaker and throughout this long book her accent and voice was in Quaker which, in the beginning, took some getting used to but by the end of the book was hardly noticable.

This raises three points: (a) it's all in the execution (b) consistency and (c) I suspect readers are getting lazier, they want to be spoon fed and don't realise what they'll lose.

A well done, consistent brogue delights me and transports me back in time. If I have to work a little bit harder to get there, the payoff in sheer enjoyment is worth it.

Judy (South Africa)