1. Miss_Marbles
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    Miss_Marbles New Member

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    Trans-Cultural Viewpoint

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Miss_Marbles, Mar 14, 2011.



    Hi, new here. I searched this site for this topic and didn't find it, so please forgive me if this has been discussed before! If it has, I would appreciate being directed to the correct thread.

    I'm American, working on a short story involving several British characters. My preferred viewpoint is third-person, and I like to park the eyeball with a single character for the duration of a scene. It goes without saying that Yanks and Brits don't entirely speak the same language. In dialog, of course, I would have a British character use a British term, such as "trolley", where an American would say "shopping cart". The same goes for what a character is directly thinking.

    How do writers on this forum handle third-person narration when dealing with characters who use similar but different language? After all, the scene is being indirectly viewed through the eyes of a character. If the narrator (an American writer) were to describe a British man (who owns the viewpoint) shopping for a particular vegetable, would it be more correct to say "he put the courgette in his trolley", or "he put the zucchini in his shopping cart"?

    Now, I admire invisibility in writing. I believe that a good writer is like a good professional show dog handler; it's the dog that should be showcased, not the person on the other end of the leash ("lead", to you British folks). The first time the judge notices a handler's plunging neckline, the show is lost. The last thing I want is a reader thinking "is this writer American or British?", because I believe that the first time a reader wonders something about the author, the story is lost.

    The problem is compounded by my personal mixed bag of language use; for instance, I have always used the spelling "grey", not the American "gray". But I spell "color", not "colour", and I use typical American punctuation.

    This has been a fascinating venture for me. Not only do I find British slang a delight, but I can finally watch BBC America and actually understand what's being said.

    But viewpoint is proving to be a challenge here. Anyone else had this issue?

    Barbara (Baffled in Boston)
     
  2. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Word choice and syntax is wonderful tools at you disposal, and i think that you should use them. How light or heavy handed you use them is your choice depending on the effect you want to archive.

    I would say go for it. You can always rewrite it later if it don't work out the way you want it.
     
  3. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    What I would do (and what I am trying to do in my similar projects) is keep the narrator in one language only, but when describing thoughts and speech, switch to the appropriate language, spelling and syntax. I find that this makes the narrator seem more consistent, and is less likely to confuse the reader.
     
  4. Miss_Marbles
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    Miss_Marbles New Member

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    If I could ask, which way have you gone when the culture of your character is different from your own? Have you stuck with your own language, or switched to that of the character?
     
  5. Miss_Marbles
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    Miss_Marbles New Member

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    I find it incongruous for a character to speak one set of words and have a POV in another. My inclination has been to try to consistently use language I believe the character would think in, but this doesn't make me happy. It's tough to decide which brain to remake: the character's, or mine. Have done it one way, then reversed and done it the other way. Not yet sure which way I'll go.

    Again, this agonizing is over POV only, not dialog.
     
  6. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well if you gut tells you you should have the narrative voice echo the voice and thoughts of the character, go for it.

    Personally I prefer to do it that way. When writing for a blunt characters POV I often make the narrative voice a bit more blunt to strengthen this impression. (Except when I use the opposite technique. Make the narrative voice more refined to make the character in contrast seem even more blunt.)
     
  7. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I make the narrator's voice echo the PoV character's way of thinking and speaking. I keep the same spelling throughout, though, since spelling isn't a part of speech.

    I've never thought about letting the narrator switch to American word choices when the PoV character is American and British ones when the PoV character is British. It sounds like it could work, but the question is if it's really necessary. The character's personal voice is more important than the fact that they're British or American.
     
  8. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are hoping to publish in America, I would stick to your rules when writing narrative etc. Be consistent throughout.

    In dialogue, if someone is British, then by all means throw in some slang and so on.
     
  9. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    I agree differences between Am-English and Br-English is fascinating. Isnt't the saying that America and Britain are separated by a common languag?
    I agree to use it consistent throughout related to the POV. BTW, there are many lists available that compare the two languages (same words, different meaning/different words for same meaning/etc). I am sure you have them; if not, post back or send me a PM.
     
  10. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I have switched to the language of the character. This is a solution that has its drawbacks, and I am currently only experimenting with it. I fortunately can (or will be able to) switch the dialogue language between native and English at the press of a button (er.. well, by commenting out a line of code and activating another), so if I see it doesn't work, I will go with a conventional translation.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would only use e.g. British English in direct speech by an English character, or when giving her/his direct thoughts, like:

    'Hun! Don't forget the trash, will ya!' Crystal yelled out the kitchen window.
    'Why doesn't the silly cow take her own rubbish to the end of the garden instead of expecting her husband to play dustbin men?' thought Sara.

    And there is more, so much more, to showing cultural nuance than just vocabulary. I've never found a British writer to convincingly sound American--and vice-versa.
     
  12. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure I've ever seen that. I would find it a bit strange to see words spelled one way here, and another way there.

    "What's your favourite colour?"
    "My favorite color is blue..."

    I think it makes more sense to keep the spelling consistent.

    If slang or expressions are used in speech, it will be self evident many a time where the character comes from. That should be enough.
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't imagine any publisher putting up with the two spellings side by side. You could have the character reading a note, or frequently expressing irritation: "why write through, 'thru'? You don't spell you, y-u, or blue b-l-u, do you?" But otherwise, stick to one spelling, IMO.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    a lot would depend on where it will be published... if in the us, then i'd use the british terms sparingly and only when they would cause little to no confusion for american readers...
     
  15. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Why not? It's abundantly clear from those two lines, without any further information, that one character is British and the other American.

    Anyway, like I said, I'm experimenting with this, and I may change it if I and my test-readers don't like it.
     
  16. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I don't see any difference...Yeah it's spelt differently but we pretty much say it same. (in terms of the word 'colour'
    Maybe something like Dustbin and trash can would be more suitable. that kinda difference.
    Other examples: Chips (uk) fries (usa)
    crisps (uk) chips (usa)
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think we sometimes get too caught up in trying to portray everything exactly right. Just like dialogue is often somewhat truncated from what it would be in real life, so should the extent to which we portray it.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    porcupine...

    changing the spelling in dialog makes no sense for showing the nationality of the character who's speaking, since it's being spoken and both spellings sound the same...

    what would help to establish their national identity is using different words meaning the same thing [trolley vs cart; lift vs elevator], not different spellings of the same word [flavour vs flavor]...
     
  19. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    I have characters of different nationalities interacting in my book. The MC is British, so when I'm writing in his POV, I stick to Brit English. I use Brit English when he's talking too, obviously. In other POVs I use American English, being the character American or not. If the character has a different nationality, say Dutch for example, he speaks American but uses Dutch words here and there.

    The spelling is American, being the POV or dialogue Brit or American because the software I'm using screams every time I write colour intead of color. Right now I'm internally debating if I should just leave it at that or switch to Brit spelling when the POV is Brit. I'm worried about consistency.
     
  20. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    I have characters of different nationalities interacting in my book. The MC is British, so when I'm writing in his POV, I stick to Brit English. I use Brit English when he's talking too, obviously. In other POVs I use American English, being the character American or not. If the character has a different nationality, say Dutch for example, he speaks American but uses Dutch words here and there.

    The spelling is American, being the POV or dialogue Brit or American because the software I'm using screams every time I write colour instead of color. Right now I'm internally debating if I should just leave it at that or switch to Brit spelling when the POV is Brit. I'm worried about consistency.


    Oops, double post. Sorry.
     
  21. Booker
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    Booker New Member

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    You say the story is about British characters, so I'm guessing the main character and principle POV is British? So if you're describing their point of view and how they think/feel it would make sense to me to use British expressions, especially in dialogue.

    That said, if the book is intended for a US audience, you can't hit them over the head with too much slang. Can you write Trans-Atlantic?

    It's a bit like when JK Rowling had to have Harry Potter "translated" into US. She had to change "jumper" to "sweater" for clarity but she stuck with "Mum" rather than "Mom" to retain the British flavour.
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's always sensible when being trans-atlantic to steer clear of Vest, pants and suspenders two totally different images in one lol
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're writing for the us market, you should stick to us spelling, even when your british characters are speaking, or narrating... the only place uk spelling should be used is if the scene is set in GB and you're quoting a sign, or newspaper directly... or if quoting something the british character wrote...

    the difference in speaking style and words used is all you need to show the difference between your american and british characters... changing narrative/dialog spelling back and forth would make no sense at all and would only confuse the readers...
     
  24. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    That's painted a picture I'll go bed with tonight! I've added hairy legs, a pot belly, a ciggie dangling from the mouth and a bottle of beer hanging from one hand.

    Got to go and get a drink!
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol I know I married him even after that image :)
     

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