1. Elowrey
    Offline

    Elowrey New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2013
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0

    British person writing a story set in America

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Elowrey, Jan 1, 2014.

    Hi, I have a question regarding whether to use American English or British English.

    I'm British, but the story I am writing takes place entirely in America. Obviously slang and the American way of speaking I will use in dialogue, but for the entire novel, should i write it in American English -mom, color, etc. or British English?

    Am I overthinking this? Would it matter in the eyes of an agent?

    Any help would be appreciated!
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
    Offline

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,258
    Likes Received:
    422
    Location:
    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    It depends where, if you are fortunate enough to have it published, you'd want it to sell i.e. if you want a British agent and have it published in Britain, I'd suggest making the spelling British as well, and vice versa.

    If the book takes off enough (isn't that every writer's dream?) and they want it published in different countries, then they change the spelling as needed. :)
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Not true. Yes, you should use the spellings that are correct for your intended market, but no one is going to go through it and change the spelling for you if it is published to a different market.
     
  4. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I suppose it would be okay to use British English even if the novel is set in America if the novel is intended strictly for a British audience. But, oh my goodness, if it's set in America and the characters are supposed to be Americans, and you intend the novel to be read widely, absolutely use American English. This drove me absolutely crazy in FSOG (among other problems in that series of books). I kept picturing the characters as British, speaking in British accents, even though they were supposed to be American and had no particular connection to Britain (one of whom had never even visited), because there were so many British-isms in the story. I kept wondering why the heck the author didn't just place the story in London.
     
  5. aClem
    Offline

    aClem Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2013
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    San Jose, Costa Rica
    I would think it would depend on the characters and point of view. If your main characters are Americans and the point of view is 3rd person, I think you'd want it American English. Unless you have some reason for wanting the narration to sound British, an outsider's view for example, I can't imagine any reason to use Brit English.
     
  6. Elowrey
    Offline

    Elowrey New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2013
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks so much for the replies, yes the characters are more or less all American and it is mostly set in America. Logistically it's the only place that I could set this particular story, I just didn't consider the ramifications when I was planning it.

    Has anyone had any experience in writing in American English as a brit?

    I think American English would be the way to go, I just hope I can pull it off. Hopefully if I have the characters voices down well enough it shouldn't be too hard... In theory :)
     
  7. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    And if your novel spans countries, should the spelling change as the story moves from Kansas to British Columbia to Wales? It's more important to be consistent, which is why you should pick a target market an use that market's spelling and punctuation conventions throughout.

    There is a valid argument for casting a particular character's dialogue in the character's native spelling, but in truth you can't really hear spelling. No one will notice if you stick to the market spelling.

    Besides, the market spelling is usually the author's native spelling, or at least the spelling the author is most familiar with (for authors for whom English is not their first language), so you are less likely to muck it up.

    The one exception is in literal dialogue in a written form, like letters or chat room conversations. Thse should be presented exactly as written, including misspellings.
     
  8. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    It's not really even so much the spelling, which is very easy to fix. But more phrases and words -- like, Americans almost never use the word "whilst." They don't say "rucksack," and almost never use the word "smart" to describe the look of something -- like "smart rucksack." Americans also never eat "crisps." Most Americans would have no idea what that meant -- they would say "chips." (As "chips" are things like potato chips or tortilla chips, whereas what Brits call "chips" are "fries.")

    So, it's not even so much that something would be technically incorrect. "Whilst" is certainly correct, and Americans would understand what was meant. It's just that I've never heard an American use it. (And I'm sure some do, but it's not all that common.)
     
  9. Thomas Kitchen
    Offline

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,258
    Likes Received:
    422
    Location:
    I'm Welsh - and proud!
    Thanks for the correction. :)
     
  10. aikoaiko
    Offline

    aikoaiko Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2013
    Messages:
    285
    Likes Received:
    153


    Oh boy do I ever agree with this! Story line, subject matter, and poor writing aside, the thing that bothered me most about that series (and I mean the MOST) was the use of a British accent in supposedly American characters. Oh, gosh:(:(. That simple error ruined it for me more than anything else, so I think it's great that Elowrey is considering it:).
     
    chicagoliz and Elowrey like this.
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Yes, Liz, dialect is another matter entirely. That is an aspect of character, and your narrator has a voice as well.
     
  12. Renee J
    Offline

    Renee J Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2013
    Messages:
    463
    Likes Received:
    214
    Location:
    Reston, VA
    Maybe you could get an American beta to catch Britishisms that might pop through.
     
    jannert likes this.
  13. PBrady
    Offline

    PBrady Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2013
    Messages:
    174
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    Nottingham UK
    This has raised an interesting question for me.

    I write in British English but have a character from the USA in one of my doodles.
    Should her dialogue have US spellings?
    To use center rather than centre?
    Should she talk of being at the theater rather than theatre?

    Phonetically there is no difference.
    So far no dialogue has included any words where the spelling is different.

    As I have no thoughts about publishing I will probably keep consistent British English spelling.

    My gut feeling is, should a story be good enough to attract the attention of agents or publishers then they will offer their advice.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Already answered:
     
  15. outsider
    Offline

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2012
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    609
    Location:
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Sorry but if you're British, use British English and if you're American, use U.S. English. Let's face it, it's not particularly challenging to decipher either of them depending on your geographical location.
    In terms of Americanisms such as elevator for lift or fries for chips, most intelligent people are familiar with these.
    Hollywood taught the world.
    Personally, if I ever read a word or term I'm not familiar with, I make it my business to find out what it means. We live in the age of google afterall.
    Franz Kafka wrote 'America' in German before it was translated into English.
    I just think it's a bit of a non-problem.
    With reference to the OP's question about the book being set in the States, I would simply avoid obvious British terms.
     
    Andrae Smith and PBrady like this.
  16. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    It's not a matter of understanding. It's a matter of characterization and setting. If allegedly American characters with no connection to Britain are using British vernacular, it's going to interfere with the reading experience and make them less believable.
     
  17. outsider
    Offline

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2012
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    609
    Location:
    Glasgow, Scotland
    How many American writers if writing about being in London, for example, would talk of retrieving their suitcase from the boot of a car? None, I'd wager. They'd say 'trunk'. There's obviously many examples but don't you agree that it's splitting hairs?
    If it was character dialogue then I'd agree that it could be a problem.
    However, it's a bit much to expect a British writer to spell words in the American fashion such as color, jewelry, etc.
     
  18. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Worse yet, Americans seem to think of British English as a single homogenous dialect, and vice versa. writers on either side of the Pond have little understanding of the regional dialects in the other land, and may not even have a clear understanding of regional subtleties in their own land. Many in the northern United States think of a single "southern accent", where in fact there are wide variations even among the states of the Deep South.

    In short, getting a good handle on dialect can be a hell of a challenge.
     
    Thornesque and outsider like this.
  19. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    I've never experienced anything like this. Personally, though, I would find switching between spellings distracting. It would probably knock me out of the story, and that's not good. I can't foresee this tactic lending anything particularly positive, but that's just me.

    As far as Elowrey's question goes, I think I agree with the general consensus. Stick with your native spelling but target your lexicon at the setting, at least in dialogue. outsider has me thinking that general narration should stay native in all aspects (assuming the narrator isn't a character of the target foreign setting), as the purpose of language is communication. I know I'd stumble if I was reading a book set in London where boots and crisps and rucksacks and whatnot are being talked about in place of things I'm familiar with. But maybe I'm lame in this respect, and am suggesting a good method for imposing atmosphere not be used...
     
    outsider likes this.
  20. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I wouldn't set a story in London with all British characters, unless I did extensive research and had actually spent significant time in London to get a feel for how people talk and what they do in the city, etc. Setting is just as important as plotline, in terms of getting things right. (There have been threads discussing the importance of research and whether it is important to visit a locale where a significant portion of your story is taking place. Some believe it is vital, others believe it can be covered through extensive research. But there is overall consensus that one should work to get these sorts of details correct.)

    As far as the spellings, traditional publishers print editions for different markets. They will make changes in spellings, and sometimes other dialect changes. If you're self-pubbing, obviously, you can do whatever you want. (BTW: In a traditionally-published book intended for the U.S. market, there is no way an editor would allow "boot" instead of "trunk" for a story set in America with American characters.)
     
  21. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,956
    Likes Received:
    5,486
    I've assumed that the rules would be:

    For narrative and dialogue--that is, essentially everything but the precisely reproduced writing of a character--use the spelling and punctuation of the country in which you hope to be published.

    For dialogue, use the dialect, word choice, phrasing, etc., of the character.

    For narrative in a character voice, use the dialect, word choice, phrasing, etc., of the character.

    For narrative not in character voice, use the dialect, blah, of the country in which you hope to be published.

    Of course, you may need to consider the likelihood of audience confusion for a small number of issues. For example, it might be necessary to somehow clarify a British male character in an American-published novel putting on a "jumper," given that to an American a jumper is a kind of dress. Maybe you could have the character instead wear a cardigan or jacket. But I would solve these issues on a case by case basis rather than have American characters use British word choices and vice versa.

    And as has been said, there is no single version of American English. To use a word that you mentioned, Americans may call their mothers Mom, Mama, Ma, Mother, Mommy, etc. Some of these variants are regional, some are not..
     
  22. heal41hp
    Offline

    heal41hp Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    225
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Oklahoma, USA
    After discussing this point with a friend, I can see using the spelling of the foreign setting having some use in certain circumstances. To me, foreign spelling gives something of an alien feel, and if you're trying to convey that, would that not assist in the endeavor? Obviously it would be a lesser of many tactics. Is there any validity to this thought?
     
  23. outsider
    Offline

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2012
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    609
    Location:
    Glasgow, Scotland
    James Kelman's early work was originally picked up and published by an Amercan publisher and released there and that was written in a broad Glaswegian, stream of consciousness style. With words spelt phonetically and many Glasgow-centric references.
    I don't believe in writing for a geographical 'market', I just write.
    Thanks for the facetious interpretation of the example I used in any case, though the point was that there are many examples of these discrepancies and dare I say it, a British writer would be better placed to know an American synonym than vice versa being as we are so exposed to American culture.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2014
  24. outsider
    Offline

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2012
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    609
    Location:
    Glasgow, Scotland
    *American
    Thought I'd quoted chicagoliz but it didn't work. Maybe as I'm on an iPhone at the moment?
     
  25. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I agree that one should just write, irrespective of the geographical market. Those sorts of things can be worked out later, if they are deemed problematic.

    I'm not sure if you're addressing my post, but I don't see how it is facetious. Perhaps you were being facetious, but even if you were, it is a valid example of the disparities within the same language (and, as has been pointed out, it is not limited to inter-country differences, but there are differences within the same country, as well.)

    Again, I will restate that the issue is not whether the reader would be able to figure out what is meant. The issue is with taking the reader out of the story, and with whether you're conveying an impression you do not wish to convey -- that is, if your character is always using a particular British saying, and using phrases that are common in Britain, but not in America, AND the character is not intended to be British or to have any connection to Britain, it's not going to read right.
     

Share This Page