Friday, January 31, 2014

Soda or Pop: The Dialogue Dilemma

Where is the Hartford in my stories? There are several actual Hartfords in the US and mine is not based on any of them. It is based on my imagination. I have attempted as much as possible to make it feel as though it could be almost anywhere. In giving it realistic features, however, I’m forced to write what I know.

I picture a landscape similar to rural Ohio. I grew up in one of those small towns separated by large areas of farm land. The climate is closer to where I live now in North Carolina. When it snows a few days before Christmas, it is melted the next day. Even where this weather might not be typical, it is still possible. And during the summer I tried to mention that people were hot without saying exactly where the mercury hit.

The trickiest part of not pigeonholing the town to a particular area of the US has been the dialogue. Shortly after I moved from OH to NC, I made the mistake of calling a can of Coke a pop. People laughed at me. One of them asked if I had just arrived from the 1920s. What had been a perfectly normal word choice in one area was comical in another. Even after, well, more than a few years here, I still cannot bring myself to say the word soda. It feels foreign. Sometimes it’s good that my characters like to drink water.

The issue that has frustrated me the most is when a character refers to other people. I can’t use y’all because it’s decidedly Southern. But do more people say you all or you guys? Does one have a more distinct flavor than the other? Is it awkward to have characters use only names? What if one of those in the group is a minor character I didn’t bother to name because I’m bad at names? (Wait… I already wrote about that.)

There are likely other issues I haven’t even considered. I hope though that my town and its people are relatable even when I unknowingly slip in something Midwestern. I cannot escape my roots. Of course, my sister swears all of my heroines sound exactly like me no matter how different I believe they are. Perhaps making them sound like anyone is as much a lost cause as making them sound like anyone else.