Black Dog and Britishisms

Scrivener screenshot of Black Dog work in progressThey say that slow and steady wins the race. I’ll buy that, since it describes exactly the progress I’ve been making on Black Dog. I started the manuscript on August 1st and just passed 11,000 words.

That’s not bad given that all the writing happens early in the morning before the demands of the day job kick in. I start at 5:30am and rely on a mug of coffee to get my fingers moving on the keyboard. During a good session I’ll put down around 400 words. That might not sound like much but if you do the maths, in a year that adds up to a novel.

Actually, if you do the maths, you’ll realise I’m a bit behind. That’s partly because real life keeps getting in the way, partly because I’m allowing myself to be sidetracked by research. The important thing is I’m not worrying about it. That’s a big step for me: speed has been something of a driving force in recent years. On this project, however, I’m happy to take my time. For an idea of where I’m at, click on the picture. It’s a screenshot of my Scrivener workspace for Black Dog and might give you a few clues as to what I’m writing about …

One minor dilemma I’m facing with Black Dog is what language to use. I’m an Englishman, accustomed to writing in the mother tongue. But my story is set in the USA – indeed, in that most American of places: Hollywood. Should I therefore write it in American English?

Okay, many people won’t spot the difference. But we are, as they say, two nations divided by a common language. As a writer, I’m acutely aware of that division. In this very blog post I’ve already talked about ‘doing the maths’. If I was American, I’d drop the ‘s’ and content myself with just ‘doing the math’. (By the way – just how do you Yanks get away with just doing one math at a time? We Brits have to do them in multiples!)

Some decisions are no-brainers. In dialogue, my American characters naturally use American vocabulary and idioms (or as close to them as my idiot English ear can get). But what about the rest of the prose? As a British author, I prefer to write in my first language. It might be set in America, but this is still a British novel, gosh darn it. If it was set in Italy, I wouldn’t even consider writing in Italian (the fact I can’t speak Italian might be a stumbling block too).

Even so, certain word choices seem obvious. If one of my characters is walking down the street, I’m inclined to use the American ‘sidewalk’ in preference to the British ‘pavement’: in America, that’s simply what they are. But what if he decides to watch a movie? Does he visit a ‘cinema’ or a ‘movie theatre’? Uh, hang on, shouldn’t that be ‘theater’? You see the problem? Where does it end?

I don’t want to give the impression I’m agonising over this, because I’m not. As far as the first draft’s concerned, I’m just following my nose and writing whatever feels right. At some point, much further down the line, I’ll have to give the matter the attention it deserves. Who knows, by that stage British and American English might have merged completely. And for those of you concerned that it’s the American flavour that’s steadily taking over the world, here’s a couple of links that prove the British version is still alive and kicking.

Comments

  1. Dorothy Emry @nerdwrites says:

    Thought i give bit of insight into the cinema/movie theatre (which for us would be “theater”) issue: We Americans “go to the movies” or “go see a movie.” If we’re in a big city, we might walk there; in the suburbs, we drive to the theater.
    Feel free to ask me regarding any other tricky American-speak issue you run into!

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