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By Jeanne Marie Leach

This is something you’ll frequently find these days in light of the popularity of Scottish legacies and Amish fiction. These two genres take up at least 1/3 of the Christian bookstore fiction shelves right now. In an attempt to make these books sound more authentic, authors drop in some of the “flavor” of these people by using German words the Amish have grown up with and Scottish phrases in their Scottish legacies. This isn’t a bad thing as long as the reader can somehow know what you are talking about.

However, if not done well, this can become very annoying. A couple things that annoy me most about this technique are:

  • When the author doesn’t include the meaning of the word naturally in the narrative, and instead opts for a glossary at the end of the book. As a reader of fiction, I do not want to go to the back of the book every few paragraphs or so in order to understand what the story is about. A book I finished reading the same week in which I wrote this lesson contained some of these Scottish words in its glossary:
Bluid – blood
Braw – fine, handsome
Dwiny – sickly, pining
Fash – worry, trouble, vex
Monie – many
Puir – poor

Well, you get the picture. This glossary spanned four full columns over two pages, and these were used quite often. The result was a difficult, annoying, halting read. The entire book of over 450 pages of “clever” dialogue looked like this (Names have been shortened to first initials:

“I meant to be waiting at the foot o’ yer stair,” R said in a rush of words. “To escort ye to N Port so ye might watch the Highlanders enter the toun and mebbe catch sight o’ yer brither. But the army slipped through the gate sooner than we thocht. . . Fergive me, Leddy K. I didna mean for ye to be alone on a murky street with L’s men.”

This wasn’t just confined to dialogue, but the narrative also read this way. This is clearly a case of someone who made a trip to Scotland for research and felt the need to show us just how much he or she learned. I’m an American, and trying to read an entire book of this nature quickly became tedious.

In the ACFW, we are taught to use foreign speech sparingly, and then utilize it only if the reader understands the words. The above paragraph could be rewritten in such a way as to maintain the Scottish flavor, but make it easier to read. Something like this:

“I meant to be waiting at the foot o’ your stair.” R said in a rush of words. “To escort you to N Port so you might watch the Highlanders enter the town  and maybe catch sight o’ your brother. But the army slipped through the gate sooner than we thought. . .  Forgive me, Lady K. I didn’t mean for you to be alone on a murky street with L’s men.”

A good technique for this is to only write the character’s radical speech once, then taper off the words in subsequent dialogue. The readers will automatically “hear” the Scottish brogue each time they read the subsequent spoken words, but they’ll read much quicker, and the story will flow much better.

Remember that you are writing for the American audience. Use English.