How much detail for readers outside the USA

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hulbertsfriend
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How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by hulbertsfriend » August 26th, 2010, 3:20 pm

I recently received feedback on my MS from someone in England. The response included questions about words like filibuster, Senator, Bill (Proposed law, not the guy) etc...


How important is the explanation of these terms for foriegn readers, let alone readers here in the U.S. ?

Only a few of these terms have a crucial role in my story, but I am trying to pare down my MS, not addd to it.
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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by polymath » August 26th, 2010, 4:33 pm

Beware of writers critiquing who don't open a dictionary now and then. Filibuster is a Spanish loan word in Modern English. Senator comes from Middle English through Latin. Bill, the same.

Words are not in and of themselves an issue. It is local idiomatic usages that don't cross regions. But idioms are a part of expression and can be quite colorful if they translate meaningfully.

'Em's youngin 'bout mummocked my last nerve. Low Country Carolina-Georgia Gullah dialect as idiom.

Mummock, from Middle English mammock, meaning to tear into fragments, mangle. Webster's.
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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by Nick » August 27th, 2010, 12:35 am

Frankly, I'm not sure how much I would trust this reader. I know politically apathetic British teens who have a basic understanding of what a senator is, and the term bill is used to refer to a proposed law in the United Kingdom as well as the United States.

Equally, I wouldn't worry too much about trying to pander to a foreign audience. In my experience most teens in this country are still unaware of "snog" being British slang and just think of it as "the word from Harry Potter". A book that's rooted in American terminology or culture is rooted in American terminology or culture. My guess is the books which worry about having wide appeal tend to fail spectacularly.

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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by polymath » August 27th, 2010, 1:11 am

Rethinking my response, what if the British reader has a hunch that's not conscious? For instance, it's not the detail, nor the words, per se, it's what might be behind the hunch. Filibuster used by a narrator reporting could be a tell, which might be more dynamic as a scene.

Say, He filibustered all night and well into the next day. Narrator reporting summary of an action. Or a character says it in dialogue. "Senator Makepeace's filibuster killed the campaign finance reform bill. I don't know if I could speak that long, what with my glossophobia." Maybe either aren't the most dynamic ways to show what a filibuster is.

I think I'd like to experience the glossophobe's perspective in close narrative distance putting on a filibuster or the equivalent thereof for a spokesperson.
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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by cheekychook » August 27th, 2010, 1:12 am

As long as the words and descriptions you are using are relevant to your story, I wouldn't worry about trying to explain them to readers. Generally speaking, when reading a book, if you come to a word that you don't understand you either look it up or you decide that the meaning you glean from the surrounding text is sufficient. As far as foreign readers go, I wouldn't be at all concerned with their understanding of common American terms. I'm American, but I read a fair amount of British fiction---I'm familiar with most British slang, but if I come across something I don't know, I look it up, feeling it's my responsibility since I'm choosing to read a British novel. The same holds true for terms about levels in school, discussion of Parliament, etc---it's up to me, as the reader, to decide how much working knowledge I want/need to have of those terms.

It's great to have readers comment on your manuscript, but it's important to weigh the comments before you choose to change your manuscript because of them. Some feedback is extremely helpful---it can point out inconsistencies, unclear issues, repetitive scenes, slow/confusing/boring dialogue, plot gaps, etc. Other feedback, well, not as helpful. Also, if you were asked those questions because the reader wanted the answers for personal knowledge (acknowledging that the terms/concepts were foreign to him/her, personally) that's a completely separate matter from suggesting you alter your book to include definitions for all readers.

Particularly in regard to the use of political terminology I'd say (just from having read your query letter) that it's pretty obvious that politics play a large part in your story---the reader can reasonably assume that a rudimentary understanding of/interest in the topic would be handy. There are plenty of Americans who couldn't provide a definition of filibuster, Senator, or Bill off the top of their head, but they're probably not going to be the people who will be drawn to a novel with a politics-involved plot in the first place.
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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by sarahdee » August 27th, 2010, 2:27 am

I guess you refer to me. The only term I didn't understand fully was Fillibuster as its not something we use so much in British politics and I asked mostly to understand personally (thanks for the info). 'Senator' and 'Bill' I would imagine everyone is clear on and I don't think you need to explain - as Cheekychook said below, anyone who doesn't understand won't be reading your novel. But don't worry, even us Brits get what a Senator is!

I think you misunderstood my comment on 'Bill'. It was the sentence I did not understand not the term 'Bill' hehe :) I think you are missing an apostrophe....I will send you an email showing you what I mean.

Don't feel the need to pander to an international audience. If I ask it is out of interest. I've had a load of comments about some UK terms in mine and after an inner debate decided to leave them as they are are.

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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by GabbyP » August 27th, 2010, 1:22 pm

Hi,

I live in Europe in a country where the main language is not English...but lots of people speak and read English and therefore the bookstores carry lots of English language books. This is quite common in lots of countries all over the world. Don't think of your book only being read by Americans or Brits. There could be people reading your book in English in countries like Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Turkey, etc. So it might be helpful to add a wee bit of information about the importance of the term you are using. As a foreign reader, I don't need to know the entire political hierarchy of your country....but I want to know how important this senator is so I can react accordingly. Let's say your senator is giving a speech and your protagonist, who has had too much to drink, is heckling him. I, the reader, will react one way if I know the senator is a medium-powered politician. But I will react a different way if I know the senator is two steps away from being president, and holds enough power in his hands to make or break entire industries. In the second instance, I'm going to be really really worried about the protagonist.

Hope that helps a bit!

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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by hulbertsfriend » August 27th, 2010, 2:55 pm

This is what I was concerned with for the most part. I have a Senator who is extremely powerful and ever present in the story. She works on a number of committees in the Senate that we would recognize as important, but people outside the USA may not. I thought that these sections would be canidates for large editing, but I may want to be more selective.
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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by sarahdee » August 27th, 2010, 8:58 pm

hulbertsfriend wrote:This is what I was concerned with for the most part. I have a Senator who is extremely powerful and ever present in the story. She works on a number of committees in the Senate that we would recognize as important, but people outside the USA may not. I thought that these sections would be canidates for large editing, but I may want to be more selective.
When I read it, I might not have heard of each and every committee but I understood that it made her a powerful person (which I think is what you were trying to get across) and as most of the committee's were self explanatory by the title, it made perfect sense.

As Gabby said readers outside of the US might not understand everything but I find you explained the political process well e.g. the part about the numbers of Senator's Vs Congressmen and their specific powers. It is nice to read a book and go away having learned something new.

I think the only thing I didn't understand were the many news acronyms but if these are well known in the US then leave them. I got from the context they were television news network etc so thats all I really need to know to follow the story.

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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by ninafromnorway » August 28th, 2010, 4:42 pm

hulbertsfriend wrote:I recently received feedback on my MS from someone in England. The response included questions about words like filibuster, Senator, Bill (Proposed law, not the guy) etc...


How important is the explanation of these terms for foriegn readers, let alone readers here in the U.S. ?

Only a few of these terms have a crucial role in my story, but I am trying to pare down my MS, not addd to it.
Being born in Wales, but living in Norway I know the English language enough to know those you have mentioned above. I'd stay away if they actually want to know what they mean, or are too lazy to open an Oxford D. to find it out for themselves!

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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by Lillian Grant » August 29th, 2010, 6:16 pm

I have the opposite problem. I am originally British but have lived in Australia since the mid eighties so I come with two versions of the English Language. I use English and Australian slang in my writing without even realising it. It didn't put off a US publisher from picking up my book but it has lead to some interesting discussions with my editor about which words and expressions could stay, because their meaning is obvious from the context, and which ones needed to go. As the publishing world seems to be US centric I wouldn't worry about it.

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Re: How much detail for readers outside the USA

Post by ninafromnorway » August 30th, 2010, 4:28 pm

Lillian Grant wrote:I have the opposite problem. I am originally British but have lived in Australia since the mid eighties so I come with two versions of the English Language. I use English and Australian slang in my writing without even realising it. It didn't put off a US publisher from picking up my book but it has lead to some interesting discussions with my editor about which words and expressions could stay, because their meaning is obvious from the context, and which ones needed to go. As the publishing world seems to be US centric I wouldn't worry about it.
Same problem goes for me. I use both British and American in my writing. Luckily my MC can get away with it, but I'll still have to work on it for my next novels.
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