Today's post is for the Brits out there who'd like to do a convincing job of writing American (from the United States) characters. Now, while in depth writing that will fool most Americans takes a lot of work and research, here are five quick tips so that your character doesn't scream British! every time he/she opens his/her mouth.
1) The only curse word Americans use that starts with a B is bitch. (Okay, we do say bastard, but it's rare.) If you find yourself tempted to write bugger, bollocks, or bloody, don't do it. Lord knows there are times when one of those words seems like the only one that'll fit, but nothing will convince an American that the character they're being asked to read isn't American faster than any of those three words popping out of the mouth of a character.
2) We say and write dates: month, day, and then year. The Fourth of July is the big exception to this. If your character says something like, "First January, 2011," it will sound very odd to us.
3) Keep dialog sentences pretty short. We usually don't speak in long sentences. Granted some are fine (keep your character in mind), but less than fifteen words is pretty normal for most spoken sentences.
4) If most of your experience in hearing American speech is from TV keep this in mind: most TV characters speak like New Yorkers or Californians. If your character comes from one of those two places he'll sound a lot more realistic than if he's from Georgia or Iowa. (Or God forbid, Texas. There are more bad Texas accents written from people all over the world than from anywhere else in the US. Gobs of Americans write bad Texas accents, too.) Think of it this way, if you were going to suggest where a British character written by an American should live, based on how most Brits speak on television, would you suggest London or a tiny town on the Welsh border?
5) Watch House MD. Seriously. Hugh Laurie does a flawless American accent that's fairly generic. He could come from almost anywhere in the United States. Study how he speaks. If Dr. House would say it, it's probably an okay sentence.
Okay, so that's a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list. But truly, if you do want to write convincing American characters the single most important thing you can do is get an American or two to read your work and suggest substitutions. We all speak English, but we use it differently, and it's easy to get tripped up on things you'd never even think of being issues. (My own crowning moment of attempted Brit writing glory was a story where the hero sat down on the bedspread and then talked about the view out the counterpane. I thought it was a synonym for window.) Good luck and happy writing!