One of the common mistakes we writers can make when we write a story based in another country is to imagine the readers living in our own location. We expect our readers to automatically see what we see, hear what we hear, and smell what we smell. Yet surely part of the thrill of reading about another country, is to learn about other lands and cultures? We need to treat our readers as our guests and share with them some of the local traditions.
Part of the thrill of reading about another country, is to learn about other lands and cultures. Click To TweetSo tell your readers where you live, or where your story’s based. Then allow them to soak in the local atmosphere and learn local terms.
Few, if any, countries have the rich pageantry of the British. Therefore if you’re writing from or about England, share this location with your readers. Let them see the glistening bodies of the horses tossing their heads as they trot in perfect symmetry. Show them the golden coach and the waving monarch, resplendent in clothes from a bygone era.
Allow them to marvel at the scarlet and black uniforms of the soldiers with their tall fuzzy bearskin hats. Help readers experience the adoring throng, pressing forward for a glimpse of the royal family. Describe the majestic buildings, steeped in history.
Readers of African stories will marvel at the family of African baboons, large primates from the monkey kingdom, who sit nonchalantly in the middle of a road feeding their young or searching their hairy bodies for insects, while overhead the grandfather of the tribe stands guard, searching his location for intruders.
Those who have never been to Africa will love the picture of the tall, graceful giraffes loping across the veld, the herd of zebra grazing on the dry grass, or the gigantic tortoise meandering across the road in front of the car. They will be amazed to see a driver stop his car and rescue the tortoise, moving it to safety at the side of the road.
Despite having never been to Australia, I love to visualize the kangaroo in its natural habitat, or the duck-billed platypus, that extraordinary creature who many once believed to be a fake.
I enjoy stories set in the outback of that country, what we South Africans would call desert, or even “the bush” (even if there are no bushes!) The vastness of the land fascinates me not to mention the isolation of the sheep and cattle stations. South Africans would call these farms, and the Americans would say “ranches” (I think?)
Yet what about the Australian cities? Do they look like all cities around the world? Are the buildings modern, or are there some built in old English style? I imagine them as modern as Australia itself in not an old country. But am I correct? I don’t think I’ve ever read about Australian cities.
Whenever I read about Japan, it seems to focus on the overcrowded cities, the cramped living conditions and the chaotic road system.
I picture a mass of cyclists wending their way between noisy vehicles. Yet I have a friend who lives there, and she occasionally goes into “the country.” I didn’t know there was “country” in Japan. I thought the entire location was packed with people. I’d love to know more.
Use Local Terms
Local terms is another way of drawing readers into the story. However, you may need to explain them the first time you use them. After that, you might use the terms in ways they will recognize.
If I tell you I’m looking forward to some South African boerewors at the braai this evening, will you know what I mean?
However, if I had previously told you boerewors, which literally means “farmer’s sausage,” is a spicy form of sausage, not limited to farmers, you would have understood that part. But what of the braai? Made by all the butchers in the country, boerewors is enjoyed by the entire population. Usually, it is usually cooked over an open fire, at a gathering the Americans and Australians call a barbecue. Many times, the wors (sausage) is cooked in one large coil and broken up after cooking. Here in South Africa, we call this method of cooking a braaivleis (literally cooked meat) or braai for short.
I only need to explain that to you once. From now on, when I talk about cooking whole snoek on a braai, I only have to tell you that the snoek is a popular fish found in the sea around the Cape. You already know the rest.
As you weave touches of the local culture and a touch of the location into your stories or articles, your readers will love their taste of foreign lands, and they will thirst for more of your writing.
Join me over the next weeks as I explore the fascinating topic of International English.
Read more about the African baboon:
and God’s Outstanding Sentinel: G is for Giraffe.