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.