Words and Stuff.

Someone asked me this morning if I think about how a narrator is going to deal with foreign words and phrases when I write. It’s a good question and I kind of want to deconstruct the question a little bit.

Please understand as I write this, I’m going to just go through what is in my head when I start writing so it’s going to be pretty much a stream of consciousness thing, okay?

I don’t go into a story thinking about anything other than the environment I’m writing in. I chose the words and things I need to build the world I want my characters to live in and simply forge forward. I write from my POV, the world I know and the languages and influences I have. So what does that mean for the reader and narrator?

It means they might encounter things outside of their world view. And that’s okay.

Now, this has been a bit of a contentious wrangling at times during editing because I’ve been told… substitute this unfamiliar-to-editor thing with this very-familiar-to-homogenized-America thing. My answer to that will always be no, they’ll learn. That’s how I learned. Because we want to learn as we read.

That might sound weird to say the truth is, it’s how we learn and stretch. There are languages and cultures I would NEVER have encountered growing up in Hawai’i but I learned of them through books. I embraced the unknown because it was unknown. Did  it pull me out of the story? Yes, sometimes. Not gonna lie. It’s a risk…but once I looked something up, I could go back and read over what I’d already read with a new understanding.

See, I believe in the intelligence of the readers in the genre and beyond. I trust in their acumen and flexibility. I have faith they will return to the text with a new awareness of my world, my POV. I respect the reader’s intellect. I never ever want to dumb down my language or cultural references because I know the audience … the readers… will seek out what they don’t know… IF they don’t know.

Just like I had to figure out what the Amish and Jewish cultures were. And let me tell you… that was very confusing for a hapa kid living on O’ahu.

As for writing with narrators in mind… nah, don’t do that either. Mind you, I’ve got some kickass narrators who are fantastic talents and great guys. But I also don’t ever expect stuff to roll into an audiobook. You can’t write with that hanging over you. You can’t hinder yourself with those boundaries. It’s a performance medium of your work, yes…that is true… but the FIRST representation of your writing is that book. And that’s where the focus should be.

Hope that answers the general question of writing for the audience and narration. Bottom line, write your POV… explain as you can and should but embrace the readers’ intelligence. I’m not saying box the reader into a maze of cultural references without a signpost… explain the culture and social constructs but also understand readers are smart and a hell of a lot more worldly. Explore your own world, bring it into your writing and share it with others.

But most of all, write your book.

11 thoughts on “Words and Stuff.

  1. Paula

    As a reader, I completely agree with this. I enjoy learning new things when I read. For me, that’s the whole point of reading..to learn about new things and experience new points of view. It’s nice to experience a whole outside of my little bubble that I live in. Reading helps me to become more understanding of people and their lives. I wouldn’t want to imagine living in a world where all the stories were told from the same point of view when I didn’t get to learn anything new.

  2. Thank you for not treating your readers as intelligent folk! I’m 61 years old and I’ve loved learning new things about cultures I’m not familiar with from your books and hope to continue to do so for a long, long time! 🙂

  3. meep

    But that’s part of what adds so much life and personality to your books I like getting a glimpse at other cultures and have a long list of ‘find and try’ foods thanks to you! It opens the world a touch.

    A nod to Greg though, I was listening to Kai this week and did notice how smoothly he read the harder to pronounce words.
    The answer to my mind is to get a capable narrator not dumbing down your book – this having listened to a narrator use the ‘mumble it fast and no-one will notice’ technique and absolutely mangle a welsh sentence. I did notice.

  4. Sadonna

    I LOVE learning new things from the books I read. It’s half the fun! I remember when I first started Eden Winter’s Diversion series, I was STUNNED at the stuff I knew nothing about that affects patients needing specific medications and the whole shaded world how drugs are bought and sold and provided to the sick. Or when I read Josh Lanyon’s Come Unto these Yellow Sands, I learned about various poetry prizes and journals. And your own series where I learned more about different cultures than I usually have the opportunity to interact with. My exposure had previously been mostly to Chinese culture – particularly from my time in Toronto. It’s fascinating to find out things that had previously not even been on the radar. <3

  5. Cherry Starr

    I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of my father telling me you can learn something from anything you read. Even a cereal box or comic book. And yes, I would read the cereal box because I wasn’t allowed to bring my book to the table. 😄

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