Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why I Use British Spelling in My Writing

Last Tuesday evening we were going over a story of mine at my writers’ critique group. The other members had all kinds of great things to say about my story and gave me really helpful advice as usual. So I'm very grateful for their help. The exception was when two of these members criticised me for using British spelling. I’m not the least bit British, but I told them it was my preferred style of writing. They said they understood that but that my American audience would hate it. I told them I don't write for an American audience; I write for an English-speaking audience (meaning any readers who speak English regardless of country of origin or residence). And that's where I put my foot down and said that I personally believe U.K. English is the most correct form of English as far as standardisation goes because it originated in the British Isles and not in the United States. I said that there are many American authors who have used British English, authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, T.S. Elliot and H.P. Lovecraft. One of the two members said that if I send my manuscript with U.K. spelling to an American publishing house it would be returned with red marks all over it. I told him that that's why I go the self-publishing route. Overall, self-publishing only has two basic requirements for written language: audience comprehension and author's voice.

I’m Not a Business Man

So, if British English is the more standard of English dialects then why has the U.S. deviated from it? A simple answer to this question goes back to the 19th century when Noah Webster wrote his version of the American English dictionary. According to BBC America, he wanted to make the English language simpler. Well what the hell is so much harder about writing “humour” as opposed to “humor”? Shit! So, unfortunately, we in the U.S. look for the lazy way to write all in the name of practicality. That’s a practicality that the internet age has demanded more of. Yet it’s a practicality that this country’s capitalism has been behind; practicality in the U.S. equals whatever makes money. So another reason I use British spelling instead of American: I’m an artist, not a business man.

I'm a Purist

I'm also a purist when it comes to certain aspects of culture. (Race and ethnicity is in no way one of them.) Not that I don't believe in innovation; if I didn't, I wouldn't be the writer and artist I am. But modern culture, especially here in the U.S., tends to trash the old when the new comes in. Do bring in the new; I'm not saying don’t. If things were kept the same all the time we'd be bored to hell. But don't neglect the old. I can go for movie remakes and even TV series remakes; there are many remakes that I like, especially when it comes to films. But I can't stand it when society pretends the original work never existed. It happened that way with Battlestar Galactica. When SyFy Channel's revived version of the '70s space opera series came out, it was the big talk among sci fi fans (myself being one of the fans who didn’t hype about it; I didn’t even like the revived series). And hardly ever did the original series get mentioned or was given credit. I'm the same way when it comes to music and books: I prefer the original recording and the original edition because it's closer to the original creator and is representative of the period that made it.

Writing In Your Own Voice In the Proper Place and Time

I'm not saying to anybody that they should like originals better than remakes, or the original and standard dialect of a language better than its offshoots. It's everybody's right to like what they want. Which is basically what I am trying to say: every person has the right to express their beliefs in their own voice, at least in the proper place and time, and that goes for the author and artist too.

What do I mean by proper place and time? As far as writing goes, I mean who you are writing for and when. For example, when the one member in my critique group told me that the British spelling in my manuscript would get slashed with a red pen if I sent it to an American publisher, I told him that if I submit to an American publisher then I'm going to use standard American English. But if I'm self-publishing, I'm going to use the standard English I prefer and that I believe in, and that has for a long time been British English.

Self-Publishing Allows More of the Author’s True Voice 

Now, many people will say that even in self-published work I'll annoy my American audience with British English. Well, to that I say if it annoys them then they don't have to read it. I also say that the average American reader isn't stupid. They will know what an English word is referring to when they come across it even when it has a slight variation in spelling, especially when they see that word in its surrounding context. So, if the audience understands the writing and if the author communicates what he or she wants, it works. Big publishing companies maybe don't see it that way, so that's why there's indie and self-publishing. It's those two routes that I plan to continue to go with my writing.

So I gave you my reasons why I write using British spelling: 1) I believe British English is the more standard English; it is used by almost every nation but the U.S., whether as a first language or a second. 2) I am a purist when it comes to certain items of culture, and that includes the standarisation of language. Using the spelling of English from the country of origin is part of my voice and style when it comes to my writing. Maybe this nation’s big publishing companies prohibit that style or voice like they so many times do with other voices that are variants of standard American English—including certain ethnic and racial dialects--but self-publishing doesn’t. Do you believe self-publishing allows an author to publish in his or her own writing style more than traditional publishing? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Update on the Short Story

I'm just finishing up outlining the cover illustration for “Circa Sixty Years Dead”. I hope to have the whole illustration done by next weekend but the work will probably go into the following weekend. As I said last time, I'm working a seasonal day job, so that holds me back in my missions of my alter ego as fiction author.

Until next time . . .

Stonehenge at sunset.
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