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I'm writing a story with an American character and a British character. I'm contemplating having the characters use the regional spellings when it comes to words like realise/realize or favourite/favorite, depending from who's point of view I'm telling the story at the moment (I swap back and forth between the chapters). Would that make sense or would it be more distracting to the reader? It might help "hearing" the accents while reading it, but I don't want the reader to be thrown out of the story because of the different spellings.

At one point the American character uses the word "favor" in a text message, and in that case I think I should definitely use the American spelling. But what about direct speech of the American character in a chapter written from the British character's view?

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  • Are you structuring your story as a sequence of first-person narratives?
    – James K
    Sep 13, 2022 at 20:33
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    Sorry, but that is not a good idea at all. There are no differences in pronunciation in terms of the spelling. Sometimes the stress on words are different. cóntroversy, AmE, contróversy, BrE. But humour and humour are pronounced the same. You need to be aware of semantic differences, not spelling.
    – Lambie
    Sep 13, 2022 at 21:31
  • I'm using third person limited narrators, switching between the two characters.
    – Lluvia
    Sep 14, 2022 at 20:57
  • With 3rd-person narrator I think 'no' because it's distracting and affectatious..., but maybe free indirect speech (where 3rd-person becomes the direct thoughts of the subject) is a good exception...? The only way to be sure is to try it and get feedback from readers.
    – wetcircuit
    Sep 15, 2022 at 8:34
  • Typically, I use the British spelling of words only to denote a British Character is speaking and is intelligible enough to be understood with accent. Unless I'm writing "First Person" the narrative character is effectively "Me" and as an American, I spell words in American style. I do have a narrative style that mixes first and third person where the third person narrator describes only action, while the first person describes character thoughts, but normally limited to one character and only scenes involving them.
    – hszmv
    Sep 26, 2022 at 12:47

2 Answers 2

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What does the reader hear?

The question becomes, "what does the reader hear in their head when they read the spellings?"

I suspect your spellings are going to give the equivalent of an accent to each character. You can use colloquialisms to establish accent, but a person thinking in British English may perceive the British spelling in a British accent, while seeing the American spelling in an American accent.

On the other hand, some readers would see two different spellings and not catch the subtlety. Your publisher may "correct" the spelling, and I've heard of authors having to go ten rounds with a publisher over issues like this - and losing.

So go with it, and see how it sounds. If your beta readers like it, and the publisher likes it, you're golden.

If not, it will take only a few minutes to switch it to the other way.

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  • Oh, I'm just writing for fun, so I don't have a publisher, nor a beta reader, and no one's really going to be bothered by it, except a few of my blog readers maybe. I'd just like to know for myself what others (you) think about it. Thank you for your thoughts!
    – Lluvia
    Sep 14, 2022 at 20:56
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As long as it's in quotes, use the spellings and dialects that would be natural in the geographical locations that the speaker belongs to.

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  • I don't think this quite answers the question. It's not about the language in the quotes, but about the language that the narrator uses.
    – James K
    Sep 13, 2022 at 20:34
  • @JamesK Again, this depends on who the narrator is. If anything is specified about the narrator then, the language of that geographical location should be preferred. If the narration is a 4th wall breaking conversation between the author and reader then it becomes author's personal choice but it would be best if they stick to the dialect they are the most comfortable with.
    – Satya
    Sep 14, 2022 at 8:42
  • I'm using third person limited narrators, switching between the two characters. So if I do change the spellings depending on which character voice I'm using, there's still the question whether or not to stick to that choice in direct speech of the other character.
    – Lluvia
    Sep 14, 2022 at 20:53
  • I myself am neither British nor American (not even a native speaker) - so if I stick to only one spelling throughout the whole story, I still need to decide which I should use. But as the story takes place in America, I guess it would make more sense to choose American English. (Except maybe in text messages from the British character, who would most definitely use British spelling). I am of course trying to make them sound British / American by the choice of words and sentence structures. Thank you for your thoughts on the matter! I appreciate your input!
    – Lluvia
    Sep 14, 2022 at 20:54

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