One of the things I enjoy most about my current roleplay is the myriad of accents I’ve been using and developing for my characters. You’ve all seen Aely’s apostrophe abuse, but she’s not the only accented character I have.
But how do you go about building an accent from scratch?
It’s a tough question, but a fun one. And, like many things, it can require a bit of time investment out of game to do /really/ well – especially if you want to use an accent that’s very far from “normal written English”. Of course, there are people who just “pick it up as they go along” – but I’m not one of them. I like to at least have a framework, or a plan, before I jump headfirst into RP. Plus, I find it a lot of fun, and learning about a dialect can really help flesh out a character!
Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Do your research
Google is your friend. The best way to adopt an accent is to start from one that exists in the world already. That way, someone else has done all the work to catalog it, and if you’re lucky, you may even find pronunciation and vocalization charts on Wikipedia! If this is the first time you’ve done any dialect research, you’ll probably want to look around until you find something with a good bit of information. I’ve been able to find “dictionaries” and “phrase books” for the dialects I’ve researched, both of which are tremendously useful. Some of my best inspiration for Annie Mae comes from lists of old cowboy sayings and jokes!
Youtube is another good place to look. Finding and watching movies and famous broadcasts from people with that dialect is a good way to get the sound of it in your head. It’s also a fun thing to think about, if your character ever had a voice actor, who would they be and what would they sound like?
- Aely’s accent is based on a Northern English dialect blended with some of the Lordaeron inflections of other characters
- Annie Mae has a typical western drawl
- Anzefi speaks a version of Patwa/Jamaican Patois.
None of these are set in stone, exact replications though. Why? There is no rule that says “once you pick an accent, you must replicate it faithfully or you will be cursed with hairy eyeballs.” Use the “real” dialect as a jumping off point and build on it from there.
2. Remember that you’re going to be using type as your main communication
If YOU can’t read it? Nobody else will be able to. You can put on the best Scottish accent in the world, but if it’s so far modulated your friends can’t make heads or tails of it, you’ve gone too far.
Also, if it takes you four times as long to type anything, even after some practice, you may want to tone things down a bit. Of course, typing with any accent will take some getting used to, and you’ll be slower at first, so just try to keep it within reason. That might mean starting smaller, and then adding to your accent as you get more comfortable with it, and that’s ok!
3. Adopt idioms and a manner of speech, not just sound modification
This is really the crux of making an accent sound “real” and not forced. You can mutate vowels and add apostrophes and spell things funny, but if your character is still speaking the same way YOU speak, it won’t have the same impact.
For instance, in Commiseration, she says “Cannae say ‘m fair proud t’ admit, bu’ w’s all I could do, really. Sent a letter. Been our only way t’ talk f’r awhile, so I s’pose ’s nae so far off.” If you write that without the modifications, it becomes “Can’t say I’m fair proud to admit, but was all I could do really. Sent a letter. Been our only way to talk for awhile, so I suppose it’s not so far off.” The rhythm of her speech is still there, even without all of the “sound adjustment” to make her sound like a backwoods miner’s daughter from Lordaeron.
Annie Mae uses a variety of cowboy sayings – “ugly as a burnt boot;” “can’t tell a skunk for a house cat;” “built like a snake on stilts” (That last one’s about Tarquin actually…) – none of which are hard to understand, but they give her speech a flavor text, of sorts.
4. Be flexible, Be prepared to explain, and Know when to ramp it up or down
As you add in dialect words and manners of speech, remember other characters (and other players) may not have seen those words before, or used in a certain way. Aely uses “fash” for worry/bother (“Dinna fash”) and “fair” instead of “very” – among other things. Anzefi has a whole slew of words, but my favorite is “bangarang” – which she uses to explain any kind of “badness” – disruption, disorder, or hubbub… but also to describe what it is that follows in the wake of the Lich King.
The first time either character used any of those terms, I had to explain – or she had to explain, if the question came IC instead of through an OOC channel.
Ramping an accent up or down is something you’ll have to get used to as you go, but I highly suggest thinking about a few “shortcuts” to use if you’re in a PUG for Chillmaw and someone asks you something IC, or if you’re at the bar with a bunch of new roleplayers.
As you do your research and get your accent set up, start a document or file of your findings. Before you start any serious RP, print off that document, and keep it with you – with a pencil nearby to mark things or add in new ideas. Stealing things from other characters that use accents you like is fair game too (just try not to make your character sound like their clone). You’ll especially want to have easy reference to basic things like pronouns, numbers, and common words.
You may even find phrase lists in your research phase that you can lift directly into an RP environment. Just remember that you’ll need to be able to have normal, everyday conversation, not just stock phrases. Having macros with the stock phrases in them can be a good way to keep them on hand.
Eventually, you won’t need your cheat sheet anymore – but it’s a HUGE help at the beginning!
6. Just Do It.
All the preparation in the world won’t help if you never break out the accent in RP.
You might even find the accent changing a little bit from where you started, and that’s fine. As you settle into something that works for you, you may pick up a new idiom, or drop a certain spelling that you think doesn’t work as well.
Just know that, as with anything else, the more you use it, the easier it’ll be.I can slip in and out of Aely’s accent without even thinking about it these days – but Anzefi’s still needs my full concentration (and my cheat sheet). Eventually, though, I’ll be able to drop into either without worrying about mixing them up.
A Note to The Non-Accented:
The best thing I can suggest to anyone trying to decipher the accents around them is to read them out loud. The vast majority of the time, they’re phonetic enough that you can get a pretty good idea what’s going on. Sound things out in your head, and try to get the jist for what’s happening. And if you’re still confused – ASK! Bonus points if you ask in character!
Accents in RP aren’t something to be afraid of. Sure, they require some planning and a little getting used to, but ultimately (as with all things RP) if it fits the character, it makes them even more believable.
And if your Night Elf is constantly hanging around folks like the Lordaeron crew in the Wildfire Riders, well, you can always have him/her pick up a few choice words and sayings. That happens in real life too!
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