Speaking Their Language

Do your characters’ words convey a sense of authenticity?

by Andy Scheer
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Besides English, how many languages do you speak? Likely more than you suspect.

One guest at our Super Bowl party works as an electrical engineer. Because he is fluent in a technical vocabulary he shares only with those who work in his field, I asked if he could interpret the title of a job description I’d recently stumbled on: a “mixed signal design verification engineer.”

As someone who works with words, I had my own understanding of “mixed signals.” But to Dan, the title made perfect sense. The meaning has nothing to do with conflicting messages, but to input from both analog and digital sources.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Even if your readers don’t catch half the jargon, it provides a sense of authenticity. [/cryout-pullquote]

If your novel ever includes someone who works in electronics, I hope that character talks something like Dan. Even if your readers don’t catch half the jargon, it provides a sense of authenticity. And that, every reader can understand.

I’ve never done any fly fishing, but I sure know that Keith McCafferty, the author of the novels I’m reading, has. His protagonist works as a Montana fishing guide. Every page offers a richness of details that ring true: about trout flies and fishing techniques, the geography, plants and wildlife, the people and their way of life.

While I’ve never done more than just drive through Montana, after reading The Royal Wulff Murders I felt I’d spent considerable time there. A visit I enjoyed so much, I booked a return trip – in the form of the sequel: The Gray Ghost Murders.

After reading those novels, I don’t pretend to know what kind of trout fly to use in different conditions. But I know there’s an important difference and that a good guide – or a good author – can inform me.

Do that well and you won’t send your readers any mixed signals.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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