Tuesday 19 April 2011

My Quandry: English vs American English?

This is a problem that has been stumping me for sometime: whether I should be writing in English (as, being a Brit, I've learnt) or should I write in American English?

I know most people are going to say write in English, but here's my problem:

1.) Most of my readers are American. I know this because my sales are the highest on Barnes & Noble, a site only inhabitants of the US can purchase from.

2.) Many of my novels are set in the US, therefore my characters should technically be speaking in American.

Okay, the novels which are based in the UK is a no-brainer for me. They will be written in English. But should I write the US novels with American grammar?

This problem has been bugging me for quite some time. One reader even asked me if my main character in Alone had been born in England as her thoughts were very 'English'. Now, that one is a struggle. As much as I try to hear my character's voices with an American accent, not being American myself, there are bound to be things I don't quite get.

My editor now is American, so she goes a long way to picking up my mistakes: all of the 'towards', instead of 'toward'; 'earnt' instead of 'earned'; 'garbage' instead of 'rubbish'; 'sidewalk' instead of 'pavement'; and don't even get me started on the whole usage of 'pants' and 'fanny'! When someone is taking off their pants in the UK, or patting someone on the fanny, its a whole other thing!

So what are your thoughts, guys? Stick with English grammar, but American words when I'm writing novels set in American? Or should I go the whole way and turn everything to American?


  1. I was about to say, "Keep it Brit," but if the novels are set in America with American characters, use American English.

    I used to write Harry Potter fanfic. The Brits were not so... forgiving, shall we say, when I wrote using American English, so I got a Britpicker to make the necessary changes, which are far more encompassing than just a change of word here or there. This is a heated discussion in HP fandom. Many Brits even feel it's disrespectful not to write using Brit English for HP fic, so I would assume it's the same thinking for American novels. Also, I had an English friend who wrote a short story set in America, and his use of "Mum", among other things, grated on my nerves. I guess it's just more authentic to adopt the grammar of the country the work is based in.

    My Britpicker was especially horrified, I recall, by those dorky little bags strapped around American waists that we call... fanny packs. :-) And now I know why.

  2. Lol. Ah, yes. The wonder of the 'fanny-pack'!
    I'm not a HP fan myself, but I can see why die hard fans would want it in English.
    I think I am erring on the side of American English all the way for American novels. I just can't shake the feeling that I'm being a little fake!

  3. Now that's a problem, but I also think if you readers are in America then write America English, so they feel more familiar with what they are percieving. My problem, I write just in Eglish, or try to. My mother tongue is Spanish so I make no difference between them.

  4. Marissa, I also felt a little like a fraud when writing HP fic in Brit English, as I am American to the bone. :-) If it helps, the more you write it, the more comfortable you become. Would my HP fics ever be perceived by Brit readers as authentic? I don't think so, but in the end, do the best you can.

  5. Write in the tongue of the land your story is set, Marissa. Like you say, your editor will change what needs altering. I feel sorry for Gaynor having to sort out language from both sides of the pond. I made it easy for her in my novel. Certain words not spoken in polite society need no changing. That brings me to a happening that I enjoy: women are using real language and not beating around the bush any longer. Good for you! All of you! Someone getting their bowels ripped out are not about to say shucks.

  6. Ah, but Blaze, even swear words aren't immune. I hear that 'bloody' isn't a swear word in US English, but is a particular fav over here!

    Aline -- I didn't know English (American or otherwise) was your second language. Where in the world are you from???

    R.S. I'm glad it's not just me then!

  7. I'd say if the character is British, then use British English. If the character is American, use American English. It can lead to some interesting misunderstandings.

  8. As a reader, I want to slip into the setting and relate to the characters. So in my opinion feel free to overlap cultures just like you'd do across countries with different languages. It's all about point of view. For example, if there were a Bridget Jones' Diary with her visiting the U.S. I'd expect the point of view from a British perspective. The whole novel set in Texas with all Texans better have a feeling of fast southern dialect.

    Here's something to get your panties/knickers in more of a wad. There is no set 'American' language--and it's probably getting worse. Even through we speak one language, each region of the country can be like walking into a different country. After 8 years in the Air Force I learned I can have a conversation with someone from another part of the U.S. and not understand what the hell they're talking about. Also learned people from Chicago (me) have a unique accent, and I thought I spoke perfect American English.

    So I'd be okay with mixed point of view in a novel, but that'd get me kicked out of any proper writing class.

    As a side note, have you ever thought about how social media is affecting human communication and language across the world--with English at least. We are all from different cultures, but the cyber world and the new ways of communicating (abbreviations and emoticons) are developing a whole new language right before our eyes.