I'm writing a first person story and the main character will hear a number of odd names said. The odd names will be put into Google and her spelling will be corrected, but I was wondering how to handle the spelling of the original reference to the odd name.

For example the place in Scotland "Kilconquhar". If one character rings the other character and tells them that "Kilconquhar is amazing" and then gets cut off without allowing for further information I wouldn't expect the character to know how to spell it. I'd expect them to Google how it was said to them so - “Kinnuchar” and then have Google correct them.

I'm a bit unsure how to handle this though - it's a first person story so the character who is doing the search has heard the place name over the phone. When writing it, should I write the place name with the correct spelling or the misspelling based on what's been heard?

So either: "Kilconquhar is amazing" or "Kinnuchar is amazing"

Is there a general rule of thumb based on this?


1 Answer 1


If you are going to show the main character googling the names, I'd suggest using the phonetic spelling you describe, and making it very clear that the character knows it's not actually spelled like that. Maybe she's studied a map and hasn't seen anything remotely like "Kilconquhar", maybe she's run into the issue before, and knows the odds are in her favor if she assumes its not spelled like it sounds. But if she is going to be googling, it's usually a good idea to let the reader know there's a reason for it.

There's an example of a similar situation in Susan Cooper's "The Grey King." One of the main characters is an English boy visiting Wales. Another boy tells him to read the map, then corrects all his pronunciations on the spot. In this case, it's written with the syllables the boys pronounce, alongside the letters being read. Obviously, you've got a slightly different situation (The Grey King is pre-internet), but it's an example of how something like this can be handled.

But there isn't a hard and fast rule for this sort of thing. It's all about what you want your readers to understand about the situation.

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    If it's only one, I think you should spell it phonetically and call attention to the fact that you are spelling it phonetically. Like, "Sally said, 'I visited this amazing place called ...'" It sounded like she said 'Kin-oh-car', but I couldn't quite make it out. So I tried Googling it ..." etc. If there are many such names, this could get tedious, but you could explain once that these are phonetic spellings. Especially for a first person story, if the point is that the narrator doesn't know the spelling, it would be out of place to give the spelling.
    – Jay
    Oct 29, 2015 at 19:26

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