Home « Forum « Story Discussion and Feedback

Forum: Story Discussion and Feedback

Authors that place a story in the US and use GB things

TonyK

I couldn't find this asked:

Am I the only one who finds them self "kicked out" of the story when the author uses a British-ism?

American - British - Canadian: I enjoy them all, but not together!

Sadly, I don't know any other languages enough to read them.

Anyone else?

Dominions Son

@TonyK

It depends on the circumstances and the background of the main character.

If the MC is supposed to be a natural born US citizen, it would probably bother me. On the other hand if the MC is a transplant from the UK, temporary or permanent, it probably wouldn't bother me much if at all.

Replies:   Capt. Zapp  JohnBobMead
Capt. Zapp

@Dominions Son

If the MC is supposed to be a natural born US citizen, it would probably bother me. On the other hand if the MC is a transplant from the UK, temporary or permanent, it probably wouldn't bother me much if at all.


I would also find it acceptable if the MC was either a military member or dependent of one that had spent a long time in the other country. I know I find myself using terms from the various countries I had either lived in as a dependent or active duty military.

JohnBobMead

@Dominions Son

It depends on the circumstances and the background of the main character.


Pretty much nails it right there.

I'd add, to DS's follow up note, that given my background, if the MC were an active Anglo-phile in re literature or media, I'd actually expect some Britishisms to sneak into their conversation. But there would need to be some background provided to explain why they would have developed that vocabulary.

Without any background to explain why they had developed a knowledge and propensity towards using foreign words and phrases and concepts, yeah, it would jar.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
StarFleet Carl

@TonyK

Am I the only one who finds them self "kicked out" of the story when the author uses a British-ism?


I presume you're talking about someone writing colour or aluminium or something similar?

If the character in question has had it mentioned that they're either from or have spent some time in those countries, then it fits in perfectly and doesn't bother me.

Where I get 'kicked out' is when the author is from another country and sets his story in the U.S. without realizing that folks here talk a bit differently AND how much regional variation we can have. (I regularly play poker with a guy who grew up in Boston. Even though he's lived in Oklahoma for 40 years, he still talks about pahking his cah.)

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ernest Bywater

@TonyK

It depends on the circumstances and the background of the main character.


DS nailed the situation.

I'm an Australian and grew up with a variant of English that's mostly UK with a touch of US sprinkled through it, but is mostly UK spelling. I do set a lot of stories in the USA because it's easier to get good details on places in the US than anywhere else in the world, while the stories set in Australia are set in places I know from having lived there.

I have three constants in my stories which are (a) the language of the narrator matches that of where the main character grew up, and (b) the spelling matches the country of growing up as well, (c) I match the dialogue to where the speaker grew up.

Which is why so many of my stories have Australians who move to the USA, and are written in UK English. The few stories I've written where the main character grew up in the USA are all written in US English. As much as possible I do use US expressions for things in the US as long as they are a national expression and not a regional one. I've been known to make changes to suit this last point once I'm aware of it, which is why my characters drive utes in Australia and pickups (or pick-ups) or trucks in the USA.

Replies:   JohnBobMead
JohnBobMead

@Ernest Bywater

drive utes in Australia


Yeah, Utes, in the US, are members of a specific Native American tribal group...

Replies:   Grant  LonelyDad
Grant
Updated:

@JohnBobMead

Yeah, Utes, in the US, are members of a specific Native American tribal group...

Many Ute drivers here in Australia tend to be of a certain group as well, known as Bogans.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Grant

Many Ute drivers here in Australia tend to be of a certain group as well, known as Bogans.


you missed the bit about them utes having the useless accessories - that's how you tell the difference between a working owner and a Bogan. All the bling stuff is bought by the Bogans.

awnlee jawking

@StarFleet Carl

Where I get 'kicked out' is when the author is from another country and sets his story in the U.S. without realizing that folks here talk a bit differently AND how much regional variation we can have.


Don't read my WIP because you'd be kicked out! (But you don't read incomplete stories anyway, do you!)

I admit I'm the wrong person to be writing the story. But if I had posted the outline in the 'Story Ideas' Forum, it would never get written.

A few people seem to like what I've done so far, and I consider that sufficient encouragement to continue to the end. Apologies to everyone I've kicked ;)

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@JohnBobMead

I'd add, to DS's follow up note, that given my background, if the MC were an active Anglo-phile in re literature or media, I'd actually expect some Britishisms to sneak into their conversation. But there would need to be some background provided to explain why they would have developed that vocabulary.

It wasn't until I'd been writing for a while that I discovered that I was using quite a few British spellings on a consistent basis. It turns out, I'd 'absorbed' the British spellings during my extensive readings in British reading as a teen and in my college years, which stuck with me for the next forty+ years.

Once I discovered it, I've tried to eradicate it, but even now, an editor will flag a word, and after checking, I'll discover yet another word I've been 'misspelling' by using the British spelling rather than the American.

And while I never served in the military, I have traveled overseas fairly often, and was raised in a military family, though I don't think either of those had the slightest difference, as no one else in my family shares these spelling quirks of mine.

Sometimes, an author never questions what he's always considered the 'correct' usage, and normally, many of these phrases never come up in normal conversation, or if they do, a British spelling won't affect how it's pronounced.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

A few people seem to like what I've done so far, and I consider that sufficient encouragement to continue to the end. Apologies to everyone I've kicked ;)

Knowing it's a potential weak point, I'd consider posting a blog, specifying you're aware you sometimes use the wrong spellings and/or terms, and asking for corrections anytime someone spots one. While you're likely to get a few 'false positives', you should be able to cut down the misplaced terms substantially that way. However, it will also get everyone to focus on the misspellings, so they're likely to notice the spelling flaws they'd never have noticed otherwise. :(

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Vlad_Inhaler

I can think of a story - set in the US but with a British character in a starring role - where the author simply does not have a clue about how things were in Britain 120 years ago.
http://storiesonline.net/s/68782/a-road-not-chosen
I think he extrapolated from modern-day Canada.

jimpierce08

One of the more common things I see is the use (by multiple American characters in a work, so they can't all be transplants) of car park instead of parking lot.

rustyken

I believe there are two parts to this issue. One is regarding the difference in spelling between regions, such as color vs colour. To me it only indicates that the character has worked closely with people from other regions.

The second and more difficult part is when the meaning of a word is vastly different between regions. Fag is one. Dickies is another. When they are used, the character needs to be sure that their meaning is clear to those from other regions when it used the first time. After that the reader should be able to sort it out IF they have been paying attention. Besides bits like this broaden the readers horizons.

Cheers

LonelyDad

@JohnBobMead


Yeah, Utes, in the US, are members of a specific Native American tribal group...
Replies: Grant

Or are or were residents of Ute, Iowa! (Sorry, couldn't resist. Actually, the town was named for the tribe. I don't know why, because as far as I know there were never any members of the Ute tribe anywhere near Iowa.}

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@LonelyDad

because as far as I know there were never any members of the Ute tribe anywhere near Iowa


True. The Ute tribe were based around the upper Colorado River area with the centre to the west of the river. That puts them a nice distance from Iowa.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

I'd consider posting a blog, specifying you're aware you sometimes use the wrong spellings and/or terms, and asking for corrections anytime someone spots one.


If it were that simple, translators would already have been made redundant by computer programs. Even if a few words are replaced by American terms, there will still be significant phraseology issues.

I've deliberately ignored a couple of such suggestions because, although they represented the normal American jargon, they would make the story far less comprehensible to non-American readers.

I suspect from the small number of complainants that most readers will tolerate stories not written in their preferred dialect of English provided they're well-written and engaging.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
richardshagrin
Updated:

Maybe the name Ute was used since it was so short. I have heard that Reno (Nevada) was used for that reason, not because his troops survived Custer's Last Stand. Revised information from Wikipedia indicates Reno was named for a US Civil War General who was killed in battle in 1863, not the sub-commander of Custer's forces.

awnlee jawking

@rustyken

Dickies is another.


Bow ties?

AJ

Replies:   Zom  JohnBobMead
Zom

@awnlee jawking

Bow ties?

Chevy forever!

JohnBobMead

@awnlee jawking

Dickies is another.

Bow ties?


Dickies is a long standing major manufacturer of work clothes for those involved in construction and other fields that demand "toughness" rather than aesthetics.

Not to be confused with the false front for a tuxedo, or some such thing; I'm not quite sure precisely what they are, having only once worn anything so upper class.

I _have_ worn Dickies, as in the work clothes.

richardshagrin

Most Richards are familiar with Dickie. It is used by mothers and other family members who don't want you to grow up.

Crumbly Writer

@rustyken

The second and more difficult part is when the meaning of a word is vastly different between regions. Fag is one. Dickies is another. When they are used, the character needs to be sure that their meaning is clear to those from other regions when it used the first time. After that the reader should be able to sort it out IF they have been paying attention. Besides bits like this broaden the readers horizons.

That's why it pays to have editors from various regional backgrounds. I tend to use quite a few, and they usually include American, European and at least on Australian, so they catch many of the nuances I typically miss. They also call me whenever I assume that everyone knows what a particular American institution or company is.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

If it were that simple, translators would already have been made redundant by computer programs. Even if a few words are replaced by American terms, there will still be significant phraseology issues.

Not at all. I've NEVER believed in automated language translations, as they often spit out gibberish. I've long favor Fivrr for translations, because for a few bucks, you can get a quick translation from someone who actually knows and is fluent in the language.

The same is true with reader feedback. Granted, you need to vet the suggestions, but if you get something wrong, you'll usually have several people with enough knowledge to alert you before you get too far afield.

I've deliberately ignored a couple of such suggestions because, although they represented the normal American jargon, they would make the story far less comprehensible to non-American readers.

That's always true. While you've got opinions based on experience, you've also got to merge them into an existing story. Typically, when I get feedback, I'll respond by telling the reader how I used the information, and if it doesn't fit into the story, I'll explain that, or if I need to rewrite their suggestion, I'll show them how I changed in (in case I make the situation worse with a last-minute typo).

Generally, I've had a very good record with reader suggestions, though I do vet them. Often, when I get a new editor, I'll compare how they handle writing issues vs. how my other editors do, to determine whether they have any clue as to what they're talking about. If not, I don't argue with them, I just quietly shuffle them aside and stick to my more reliable editors.

The key, though, is to have faith in your own story. One regional dialect can't be superimposed into another region, and one user's 'experiences' are often tainted by outside exposures too.

Replies:   AmigaClone
AmigaClone

@Crumbly Writer

I've NEVER believed in automated language translations, as they often spit out gibberish


They have become somewhat more reliable - even so, the best reasons I can see using an automated language translator to get a text to use in a story was if part of the story involved a character using one of them. The next scene would be the reaction of someone who knows the language that the first person was trying to translate to.

Tw0Cr0ws

If the main character is British or Australian originally I understand them speaking that way, but when everyone they talk to in America speaks like they British or Australian I find myself wondering why the story is set in the US.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Tw0Cr0ws

If the main character is British or Australian originally I understand them speaking that way, but when everyone they talk to in America speaks like they British or Australian I find myself wondering why the story is set in the US.

For the same reason most of the American 'leading men' are either British or Australians, trying to speak with a terrible American accent. Great biceps always trumps dialogue in movies!

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Great biceps always trumps dialogue in movies!


Doesn't work so well in books though.

mcguy101

I think that is mostly expressions.

For example:

Brits say "go to University" or "to Uni"
Yanks say "go to college"

Brits call mother "Mum"
Most Yanks call mother "Mom", "Mommy" or "Ma"

etc.

If this is set in the US (with American characters) it can be a bit distracting.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@mcguy101

Brits call mother "Mum"

Americans tend to use "mum" as "be silent". Example: "Mum's the word." Or it can be an abbreviation for chrysanthemum. Mum rhymes with numb.

Back to Top