Authors who don’t speak English as a first language often struggle with its many peculiarities when they write.
So do we.
There are so many differences between relaxed, common American speech and relaxed common speech of the United Kingdom, or Australia, or Canada, that we can end up “fixing” things – to our way of speaking or reading – and have them be an error in the author’s home country.
Or just ruin the essence of the story.
I reviewed a book by a Greek author who was told by his publisher to fix all the various “issues” with his story so it would read more easily to the American eye. He had written a story about Americans on vacation in the Greek Isles who meet an old man in a café one day after going diving. They start chatting and become friends and end up in a bit of an unfortunate mystery-adventure.
He was told that American readers would stumble over the lack of “smoothness” in his writing, and that the story was good, but this would cost him sales in the American market. It’s a good point; the US audience is huge compared to that of Greece.
What did he do?
He quit the publisher and put the book out himself (gotta love that indie spirit!) but he asked me to read it and make corrections/suggestions – since English wasn’t his first language.
If you have ever talked to a foreigner who speaks English as a second language, you know they usually speak AMAZINGLY GOOD English – but rarely do THEY think so. They just arrange nouns and verbs a little differently, and tend to speak more formal. They use far less contractions. (You’re not gonna see a lot of LOL’s.)
That was the case with this book. It was a very good story but it had some of the sentence structure differences that a person who speaks English as a second language would say. This is what had him worried.
What was my analysis?
It was beautiful.
It read like I had sat down at the Greek cafe with the characters on a summer afternoon and been right there, eavesdropping on their conversation as they chatted with the old man. I hung n his every word as his story unfolded.
The lack of perfectly smooth English made it all the more able for me to mentally be transported into the setting of the Greek cafe where the story took place. It added so much flavor to the story, it would have ruined it to take it all out!
The book may have sold better with that stuff removed, but readers would been served a far less interesting dish than the one they bought.
That’s usually the case with interviews and guest blog posts. Non-Americans have so many great little sayings that we don’t necessarily know (but can usually understand from context clues) that it adds a lot of personality to their post. It makes the interaction much more enjoyable.
When it comes to book sales, though, I’d write it to whatever the largest audience speaks. My Greek friend’s book aside, that’s been true since before The Beatles invaded in the 1960’s. Authors and my readership are certainly a notch or two above the average reading level of the population in general, but the cute words in an interview become speed bumps in a story if it isn’t done just right. That’s my only caution.
Write your story the way you need to tell it, and include your personality or your story isn’t yours – but balance the spices in the soup with the palate of the diner.
Not everybody likes Greek food.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.