I started writing a book. I wanted to write fiction books for a long time, but never really got around doing it. I decided to write in English rather than in my own language for many reasons, one of them being that the subjects I write about aren't really popular in my country. Another motive is that I believe English language has become very rich and I really enjoy expressing myself in it.

As the work progressed, it became apparent to me that my level of command of English language will always be below that of a native speaker.

I do not intend to sell my book once completed, but I know it will be a good one. What I want to ask is what are my options in eliminating at least the glaring language mistakes that a native speaker would never make? Where should I look for people to help me with this?

This is fiction? Where is it set? If you write what you know and set it where the native language is not english or the major characters don't speak english, you can emphasize your cultural background to give either a British Colonial or non British, non American feel to the work, your mistakes will appear to be part of the nature of the setting giving a foreign feel to the work. This is something authors work hard to create. To further emphasize this use the wrong spelling for your market (use British spelling if you are targeting America and vice versa).

I give this advice as your English is excellent. I would not necessarily give this advise to someone with weaker english.

  • It's fiction and it's set in US. The characters come from different countries and backgrounds, just as the people I met while living in US. I must admit that I was more focused on the story rather than on subtle things like capturing the specific way of talking of the different characters depending on their respective backgrounds. It's unlikely, though, I'll be able to do that alone. – user14340 Jul 1 '15 at 14:13
  • This is mostly relevant for dialogue of specific characters; a cumbersome sentence structure will jar the reader during descriptions. Though your advice can be fine for a first person narration if the foreign aspect is desired. – Reed Jul 2 '15 at 0:28

Living in an English speaking country would be ideal, but you could get great benefits by watching lots of movies and series. Although not ideal, and less natural than ordinary people speaking together, you will get a good sense of normal language use and vernacular.

my level of command of English language will always be below that of a native speaker.

It will be always different, though not necessarily lower. What you have to realize is that most native speakers have a bad grasp of grammar and style. So some turn of phrase will always come more natural to them. Reading their text will always seem more natural even if there are grammatical mistakes because the native English speaker reader is used to them. But many native speakers don’t know how to express themselves well or have horrendous styles.

However, as long as you do not commit blatant mistakes and weirdly odd turn of phrases you will be fine. The goal of a good novel is to transport you, if it is done well you should not really see the text. The brain translates it immediately into images, sensorial imput, and emotions.

You can pay an editor. Google is your friend.

Or you can use books on grammar to try and copy-edit your book yourself.

For grammar I recommend Michael Swan, Practical English Usage. It's the best book out there.

For word choice, use a bunch of dictionaries and thesauruses. You can never have too many of these. I have access to the OED online version through my university and shelves full of specialized dictionaries, thesauri and whatnot in my university library. There are also many online resources that list word usage or synonyms.

Beware of using Google results! Much of what Google lists as examples when you search for a word or phrase was written by non-native speakers making mistakes, or by native speakers with a weak grasp of their own language. Much of what Google returns is simply false, and the fact that one phrase returns more hits than another does not mean anything for a writer looking for advice on how to properly use a word.

In my opinion you don't need Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. I'm a non-native speaker myself and never found it helpful.

  • you may not have need it but most do. @user3653831 Depending on the case, Strunk and White’s elements of style could be the most important book you’ll ever read. otherwise paying for an editor is not really an option for most people not living in a native english speaking country – Reed Jul 2 '15 at 0:35

You might not want to rule out writing in your native language too quickly. The noted Japanese author Murakami became famous partly on the strength of writing books with a distinctly American style and flavor, but in Japanese.

If you are committed to writing in English, why not give your book a first-person narrator from your own country? Then any small oddities in expression will seem intentional, and add realism, not reduce it. (This is partly based on Hildreth's answer, but doesn't rely on a foreign setting, only a foreign narrator.) It's often quite enjoyable to read a good writer writing in a non-native language entirely because of the differences in perspective and voice, so it might be something you shouldn't worry too much about concealing. Based on your earlier comments, it might work well for your book to have a narrator based loosely on yourself and your own experiences as a foreigner traveling in the US.

If you are writing the book for your own pleasure, you could join a writers' group or class. Many have systems in place for peer review and editing suggestions. If, later, you decide to publish the book, you have two main options (once you have had a friend or relative run through the book for obvious errors):

  1. If self publishing, pay for the services of a professional editor / proof reader. A rough guide to the costs for doing this in the UK (recommended by the National Union of Journalists as an industry guideline for freelancers) is here http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/index.php?&section=Print+media&subsect=Editing%2Fproducing+books

  2. Submit the work to a publisher who encourages authors to work with in-house editors to improve the quality of the book... This is normally part of the author's contract and is factored in with the percentage of Royalties the author will receive from sales of the book, so is not charged for upfront. Generally, this means avoiding vanity publishers as, you have to pay a great deal for the service as an extra.

I'm in a similar situation, though helped by the fact that I use a lot of english in daily life in both my profession and private life (international friends and relatives).

I've noticed that practice makes perfect, and I've been mistaken for a native speaker on a few occasions. The main thing that I notices is that colloquialisms escape me, because I don't live in an english-speaking country. Since most of my stories are not set in the contemporary world, that is not an issue. When I write a short story set in modern-day america, this deficit is probably more visible.

You can find groupings such as critters.org around the Internet, where you can post your stories and get feedback. This should help to get not just writing but also language issues out of the text.

Don't worry about it. If you feel the need to bare your soul to the reader, go ahead and explain your situation in some section labeled 'preface' or 'about the author' or something. I mean, there are so many trash authors out there who do ARE native speakers of English and convey their stories with all the voice and passion of an accountant whose sole interaction with the real world excludes all but some basement in Oregon where he calls talk-radio and run his mouth with smack-addled gibberish until the bewildered and frustrated producer simply cuts him off and the MC says ' . . . okay . .. next caller!' And have you ever read Hemingway? A very popular and respected author whose grasp of vernacular included such a repetitive use of 'good' that the sporadic smattering of 'nice' fluttered upon my eyes as the radiant lashings of angelwings taking to flight from the pages. And Faulkner. . . UH!~ he didn't actual WRITE english as much as recklessly mash english sounding words together in such long tirades it was naught but possible to distinguish any plot or substance. I might be exaggerating a tad.

In any case, even if your story is the sort which is not very popular in your native tongue, you should not let this discourage you. Your prospective topic could be unpopular simply because of a vacancy of decent material, in which case, writing such a story in your native language could become a hugely rewarding endeavor! Eitherway, it sounds to me like you're better off writing in your native language and then translating into english. Don't bother with 'hiring' some 'professional' that's not the proper way. Befriend a Hip American Intellectual, a rare breed found often at coffee shops or dive-bars, whose loyalty and utter devotion can be easily bartered with cigarettes and the mere promise of being mentioned in the aforementioned preface. They are probably also unemployed and would be seeking a good reference to put on their resume.

Anyway, just write however you can, so long as you can actually write a story hats off!

  • This answer illustrates my point, though i am not the one who DV it. This is from a native speaker, I believe. Do you really think that your “level of command of English language will always be below” THIS??? – Reed Jul 4 '15 at 23:33

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