Accent-studded prose. Pigeon English. Yea or Nay?

If inclusion or eschewing comes down to a debate, on which side do you stand?

As usual, I boldly straddle the center line of my own question. For me, most of the time, accents and pigeon English in prose are like Mark Twain’s clarinet, the “ill woodwind that nobody blows good.” Or almost nobody.

I find accents in written form disruptive. Clunky. Pushes against the graceful flow.

Other paths to the end: not so much of a challenge for me. An odd sentence form that represents, say, a non-English speaker’s accent or a British cadence…or slang…these are acceptable to my reader-eye—especially once the device establishes itself as a character’s signature. They can be persuasive; even charming. Like any device, I suppose, the proof is in the skill with which it is executed.

But what other avenues are open to us?

Take an example from my own work. A character in progress. A street artist, Real Deal. The jazz-musician riffs and rhythms of his speech are indications that he is, as his reputation proclaims, “batshit crazy.” His circlings and repetitions and Tourette’s-like exclamations are the evidences of the unhinged nature of his mind.

Without relying on the trite executions of accents—especially in Deal’s case as an African American—we come away from the page in possession of something more and better. A seeding of a greater notion in the plot.

We realize as time goes on, that craziness is the carefully-cultivated front for what Deal calls “persona.” The device becomes even more useful and appealing when we realize that he is much saner than he lets on—in fact, saner, steadier and wiser than most of his other companions. The artful shedding of his riff-man guise reveals the truth of him under his personal veil. A subtlety even more impactful than if he had been slathered in an overwrought urban accent.

Eccentricity in dialog is, for me, far more useful and effective than the labored, open-to-personal-interpretation of accents.

And I now pass the question along to you: How do you feel about accents baked into prose? How to you deal with them? How do you exert mastery over them? To writers as we are, the questions are as interesting as the answers.

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