When a character's voice is wrong

Hi Everyone,

Let me start off by saying I am not a writer but I am voracious reader and I have a pet peeve and I’m not sure if it’s just me or if others experience this as well.

It concerns writers that who make the conscious decision to place their stories in a particular location be it a particular country, city, region of the world but then write the character dialogue in their own voice using by the idiomatic expressions, slang, veracular language and spelling common to the area of the world from which they live.

I come across this so frequently that it is truly becoming a distraction and frankly spoils the story for me especially when I read it in the context of a sex scene. The language of sex, in particular is extremely easy to get wrong; sexual expressions, body part names, words for bodily function are not globally or culturally universal. Some words and phrases can overlap regionally but it’s more likely a particular word is anchored to a country or city and even to a neighborhood or street.

I don’t think it’s necessary that an author create dialogue for characters with street or neighborhood granularity especially for a story with only a handful of chapters but I do think that for sake of authenticity and believeability a reader should be able to tell that the hot blooded football jock at the University of Nevada Las Vegas that Coach is balls deep into without lube sounds like they’re screaming like a cheerleader from the US of A and not a waitress from the local pub in Liverpool.



I’d love to invite you to read some of mine, my stories are very dialogue heavy.

I’ve never had someone who is properly into dialect localization read my stuff critically, I;m sure i would find it fascinating.

I try to keep things neutral, except for when I purposefully try to give small “out of place flavors” to hint at the character’s origin.

Like wither someone my say “ass” or “arse” and “couch” of “sofa” etc.

Thanks for the response. I will have a look at a few and let you know what I think.

I know exactly what you’re talking about, demonpig, and as a reader, it also bothers me when a character’s accent is totally wrong. But as an author, I’ve got to say that it’s a lot of fun to craft characters from different parts of the world, even when I know I’m not getting all of the slang or speech patterns completely right.


I think I’m probably guilty of this sometimes.

I set all my stories in the U.S. because, for some reason, I find it hottest when it’s an American dude getting MC’d. Although I’ve lived in the U.S. for 5-6 years at this point - and I am careful not to make overt mistakes like lift vs. elevator, colour vs color, etc. - I have no doubt that my word choice/ sentence structure occasionally goes back to my British roots in ways that I’m not realizing.

Even to this day I’m learning that there are some words I’ve been using regularly that Americans do not use and it still surprises me!


If it makes you feel any better, I never realized you had British roots, Swizzington. Although now it makes more sense why you depicted that odd post-high school/pre-college program in “Slave Academy” (a detail that bothered me more than it should have).

I started writing Slave Academy around the same time that I wrote the How to be a Good Boy Handbook. At the time, I was running into problems with my stories not being accepted because the previous site overlord thought the characters were too young. So I originally invented that whole plot thing as a solution to skirt that rule.

And then I had the idea of Dylan, already at college, being sent back to school and that idea was hot to me. So I just left it in.

It had NOTHING to do with me being too lazy to change things AT ALL :wink:

P.S.: I’m glad to hear that my Britishness didn’t reveal itself!

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Hey there, thanks for the responses. I have certainly been guilty of it as well - not with a work of fiction but rather in correspondence with clients and company executives from the United States. My boss was a stickler for peer review and often scrubbed my emails etc to remove or restructure what she perceived to be the product of my ‘Canadian Handicap’. She said my writing style came across as overly apologetic and made me seem weak. Of her writing, I may have mentioned to her more that a few times during our heated performance review battles, was too direct, lacked empathy and always came across as accusatory even when no offense had been committed and that she tried too hard; she sounded like an American.

Thruthfully, I was in awe of her ability to change her voice and writing style. New clients always wanted to know how long she had been living in Canada and did she miss home and the American exec always preferred dealing with one of their own and all were surprised to discover she as Canadian as the Mounties and proudly so.

I eventually learned to spot my canadianisms in my documents and email correspondence and eventually could even review my own writing well enough to only require a cursory look on her part; I never did like the way it made me sound as I gave my work one last review before I sent it off but I did start to get calls and emails from clients asking me how long had I been living in Canada.

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There’s a conflict: I’m not a native speaker. I just can’t properly reproduce the “usual” English slang in a really believable way, much less a local US or UK slang.

So as far as I’m concerned, all my stories are not put in a specific region, and I hope my limited vocabulary and experience with the local dirty talk is not too disturbing…

If at all you could maybe imagine that the stories are actually happening in Germany (the names are usual more or less German) and it’s told from the point of view of a German who tries to write English :slight_smile:

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So what you’re basically saying is that Canadians are just nicer, more empathic and reasonable people, while US Americans are basically bullies and self-important?

And you made it your task to adapt to the US self-understanding?

I don’t know. I like to be myself when talking or writing to people, I don’t mask my own personality or strife to represent a fake image.

But otoh, I’m just a technician, not in sales or marketing.

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So what you’re basically saying is that Canadians are just nicer, more empathic and reasonable people, while US Americans are basically bullies and self-important?

The thing you gotta remember about America is it is an enormous country with a hugely diverse population. You will meet all types here. And as I already said earlier in this thread, I wasn’t born in America and feel no implicit obligation to defend them.

That being said, I have lived in several different places across two different continents. I have been to Canada several times and I’ve been to Germany several times - und natürlich kann ich jetzt sehr gut Deutsch sprechen! (lol, aber nicht wirklich…)

But I have to say, the Americans I have met have been - for the most part - far more welcoming, humble and friendly than the Canadians and Germans I have met, who are often rude, aloof, arrogant and dismissive. And yet, I know better than to judge those entire nations and their people based on those limited encounters. :slight_smile:

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Hi Martin, I for one certainly was uncomfortable with my bosses approach it didn’t feel entirely right to essentially remove my voice and replace it with a fake American buisness voice but I couldn’t argue with the results I thankfully don t work there anymore but my last 4 years were the best bonuses I had received. Other than my general experience with the inner workings our product offerings and how we were able to customise them to the needs of each client having improved the only thing I actively changed with my daily interactions and client servicing was my writing style. The effectiveness of the change was as clear - clients were more than happy to reach out to my Boss and the American execs who were in charge of the overall American Buisness Relations to get my name added to other projects involments.

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This is something I struggle with as a writer as well. Unless you grew up in both cultures (or whatever), it can be extremely difficult to write something in a different voice and have it sound natural. The only time I’ve included a British person in my stories, I’d had him living in the US for some time, so it made more sense that he would have an accent, but not necessarily be using British words. Hell, even US vs. Canada is sometimes hard…is it bathroom or washroom down there? I can never remember.

In a similar vein, I’m a twink-lover (among other things), so many of my stories involve an older-younger dynamic. Do you know how hard it is as a 50-year-old to sound like a 20-year-old? I try to do my best, but it’s not easy to spill the tea, be a little bit extra, or to be lit about something. Matches get lit, not me…I’m basic! :stuck_out_tongue:


and regarding my characterisation of American communication style - it wasn’t meant to paint all Americans in every walk of life as being bullies and self important they are not. However my experience with dealing Corporate America and how it presents itself to their other buisness partners is very different from my experience of everyday America - everyday Americans will give you the shirt off their backs and chat you up as you go then make sure you had a spare and never give it a seconds thought … Corporate America not so much.


@demonpig It’s always easy to tell a Canadian in the U.S.: They pronounce everything correctly. :wink:

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Is their a dialogue/slang cheat sheet

I had fun in one story, I made a stereotypically Irish guy, like “Howya gettin’ on?” “Ara, it’s only a bit of craic”

I think most of my Americanisms probably come from TV and Film, and the odd bit from either my ex or other love interests who seem to all be that side of the pond.

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As you may know, I write a lot of historical stuff. I do my best to make sure that the characters do not say anything too ‘modern’ when they are engaged in sex, but it is almost impossible to know what they would actually have cried out in passion back in those times. I just do my best to avoid it sounding really anachronistic. Similarly, I set many of my stories in the US and try to avoid having the characters sound too British in terms of vocabulary, but I always use UK spelling in my work, which might offend purists. To me, this ‘issue’ is a version of the debate about whether a white person can authentically write from the perspective of a black person, or a man write about a female character [and so on and so on]. If we worry too much about this, we end up writing stories which only feature people who are exactly like us, which would be very tedious.


I think something that needs remembering is that a majority of the authors on here aren’t professionally trained writers. If an American person is writing a story based in Britain they may not know the differences in spelling for some words. And besides that, the spelling of a word shouldn’t matter. You don’t see spoken word and it would rarely matter otherwise. When it comes to accents or the lexicon of a certain country or state, well, that’s really hard to do and not everyone should feel obligated to research everything about how people speak. Particular for a site where this is a hobby and an outlet for most. That’s my personal opinion on the matter. Of course, I also believe that constructive criticism is important, I just don’t necessarily think posts like these are the best way to go about that by calling it a pet peeve.

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Responding to M.Greene’s question of historical voice:
I’ve dealt with a lot of 18th century music, some of it “bawdy” although I don’t think they saw it as improper. Look at the canons of Mozart - many of them are pretty explicit even by today’s standards (one of his favorite phrases is: Leck mir im Arsch - Austrian dialect literally for “kiss my ass”). 18th century people always used euphemisms, but they are easily recognizable. (Just as I’ve remarked on how many authors on this site prefer to use their own creative euphemisms.) I recall one song where the singer had to use his hammer to knock the door of his girlfriend (that is obvious, yes?) Then there was another where the butcher was using his knife but his girlfriend was being relucant (that’s pretty obvious too, yes?) And then there was another that even I found a bit too explicit, something about exploring nature with his girlfriend and stumbling through a forest that had a wonderful taste (vagina, yes?). Actually there’s small section in the Talmud (now we’re talking about ca. 400-800) that talks about situations where the knife can not penetrate (the bread? the meat? - I don’t recall the details).

I bet many of these songs or their lyrics can be found online. With your creativity, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with the metaphors you want to fit your stories. Why, even in my own kitchen, I can open the drawer to find a whole bunch of knives, of different sizes, each with their separate function…some are dull from overuse and age, but some are new knives, still very sharp, and can cut things so smoothly and effortlessly…

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