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This might sound silly, but I am trying to make one of my characters British and I have a hard time portraying that idea on paper. My novel is set in a fantasy land, nothing like this world and I am trying to make all my characters sound different and unique... any tips or advice?

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  • You could have your character try to explain the rules of cricket to another... The word aluminium can also be a giveaway...
    – IchabodE
    Nov 30, 2018 at 21:47
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    What do you think would tell a reader that the character is British? Nov 30, 2018 at 22:04
  • How do you tell someone is British in real life? I'm not sure I always can, but sometimes all I have to go by is their pronunciation. In a novel, you would descibe this just like you would describe their voice. Do not attempt to show British pronunciation by changing the spelling of words! Other indicators of "Britishness" are inconclusive at best, unless you write a humorous novel and want your characters to be stereotypes. Then your Brit will drink tea, get sunburns, be super polite, and so on.
    – user34178
    Dec 2, 2018 at 8:46
  • I don't think this is quite an answer, but: try it (using tips from the various answers here), and then get a British person to read it - anything that's not quite right will probably jump out at them straight away. Apr 26, 2020 at 12:58
  • As an American, I will typically make an effort to have the quoted dialog of my British characters use the British spelling of words (for example, colour vs. color) while the narration and American characters reflect my own American English background.
    – hszmv
    Dec 1, 2023 at 19:47

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'British' is a rather broad definition. What place in Britain? What time period? What class? Cockney sounds very different from Received Pronunciation, someone from Yorkshire would sound very different from someone from Newcastle. And don't forget that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also parts of Britain. First, I would say, settle on an accent and a manner of speaking that are a bit more specific than "British".

Once you've settled on something, notice what makes the speech of that place-class-period unique. It might be expressions that are not commonly used elsewhere. It might be local words, like 'lad' and 'lass' in Scotland. It might be a particular accent: 'cup' is pronounced almost like 'coop' in Yorkshire. (Here's a sample.)

You don't want to go too heavy on the "special" words, or you risk making the text incomprehensible, but you can use them as needed. Accent is the hardest element to represent in writing. You don't want to spell speech phonetically - that makes it hard to understand. But you can mention that a character pronounces certain words in a particular way. You can make it the particular accent of some location in your fantasy world, and make the accent a recognisable trait of the character.

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Using the British spelling of words plus some slang would help. I have a character, very American but he spent time in Britain and sometimes uses terms such as ‘twigged to’ instead of ‘realised’.

You can have two characters argue over what the last letter in the alphabet is called - zee or zed.

You can have him thinking he is not the centre of the universe.

I reside in Canada and find the British spellings a bit different still.

Since it is a fantasy, including some of the more common Anglo words might be difficult (lift instead of elevator, flat rather than apartment).

If it were me, I would make his English a bit more formal and use the occasional term not used in American English. I would also have some character or another either remark upon or think that this character has a nice smooth accent and would make the dullest list sound interesting. The reader would deduce that said character is not from the same area as the others.

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    I do something similar, but I also have fun with it. Since I'm an American, I will make a conscious effort to use British Spelling of a word in the character's dialog only, where as the American characters spell it in American English Spelling (i.e. "Okay," The American says over the radio, "Cut the Red colored wire." "There is no wire that is red coloured wire," the British spy radios back.
    – hszmv
    Nov 30, 2018 at 22:29
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Try watching some British sitcoms. They'll vary greatly in where they're set and which British accents and dialects arise, but I guarantee you'll encounter something unlike your story's non-British characters. In something like Fawlty Towers, there will be little in the way of regional effects; but with something like Only Fools and Horses, you may need to keep looking things up (especially Cockney rhyming slang), and in anything involving the Scottish or Welsh you might well resort to subtitles.

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Read Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, watch British films or sitcoms, also Dr Who sci-fi; note the difference between British and American sci-fi.

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