Authors, Novelists, Norm Green, Norman Green, Shooting Dr Jack, Angel of Montague Street, Edgar Award, Shamus Award, Brian DeFiore, Mystery Writers of America, Brooklyn, Alexandra Martillo,Tommy Bagadonuts, American Writers

Coloring outside the lines

I love accents.

“Oh, you can’t do that,” I was told, not long ago. The person in question had read one of my recent writing projects, and he had issues. Which is fine, everyone is entitled to their opinions. “You can’t make fun of the way that character talks.” He seemed particularly disturbed because he’d assumed that the character was an African-American. The fact is, that was his perception, it was not specified in the text. In any event, he was offended on behalf of a fictional character of uncertain ethnicity.


Did I mention that this particular story was set in The Bronx? Or that the character in question happened to be a retailer of sidewalk pharmaceuticals? Maybe when this guy visits his mother he speaks like an editor of the OED, but when he’s on the street, in pursuit of his chosen profession, he’s pretty street.

How do I know that? Never you mind.

Anyway, back to the topic. I love accents. One of the coolest things about The Bronx, and about NYC in general, is that if you pay attention you can hear voices from all over this planet, and each of them massages the English language in unique ways. And I would like to point out that the English language does not belong to the academics. “You can’t write ‘dem’ instead of them, nobody talks that way.” Oh really? Have you never been to Chicago? Or heard someone from Minneapolis say “I had a daacter’s appointment, but he’d been called away to the haaaspital…” And here’s a quote from an Irish gent of my acquaintance: “Yer mudder is a liar and a teef!” And why not? Why should he not go on proudly being who he is? Maybe your perception of what his accent says about him is your problem, not his.

I will repeat myself: the English language does not belong to the academics. It belongs to all of us, and we talk the way we talk. And when writing dialogue, I choose to honor my character’s various heritages and the idiosyncratic ways that they express themselves. Don’t like that? Move to Oxford. But try not to be offended when they look down at you because of the way you talk.


  1. Well said!! Took me years to feel ok enough about putting the word “ain’t” in some of my lyrics.., My father wanted (demanded) all “i”s dotted, and all “t”s crossed. I broke away from that years ago.. You are spot on with your un-spot-on-ness!!! Each to be yourself and express as your heart would want to express! 😉


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