The other day, my friend posted on Facebook about making homemade baby food for her son. It seemed like any other post until the last word: "flavours."

That's when I remembered that this friend has citizenship in a Commonwealth country (Australia, I think). 

This friend and I actually met when we went on a study-abroad trip to the UK ten years ago. One of our professors was Canadian, but he'd lived in the US for so long that he'd lost most of his Canadian accent. It only came out when he said words such as "about" (which he pronounced more like "uh-boat"). Apparently when he and his wife go home for visits, they get teased because they "sound like Americans."

Little "tells" like these can be a great tool when you have a character who's hiding something. No matter how practiced someone is at a role they've chosen to play—whether they're a secret agent or just trying to impress someone—during unguarded or stressful moments, they'll likely slip back into familiar behaviors, such as the following:

  • Slipping into their native language or accent (especially when scared or using expletives)

  • Using lots of fillers in their speech ("like," "you know," "um," etc.)

  • Using slang or regional terms that don't fit the context

  • Spelling something in an unusual way (like my friend did)

These "tells" are great ways to raise readers' (if not characters') suspicions without being painfully obvious. Try them the next time you have a character who's not being totally honest with someone.

Write on,


(Thanks to Natasha Brazil for sharing their work on Unsplash.)