When you write a short story, poem, or novel, usually the dream is to see your work published. You may not even imagine that your work could end up in the hands of readers from other cultures or in faraway countries! At Writer’s Relief, our experts know cultural differences might mean some readers won’t understand your references, and language barriers may result in interpretations you didn’t intend. How can you ensure your writing appeals to and is understood by a diverse audience? Whether your readers live nearby or many, many miles away—or speak English, Spanish, or even Elvish or Klingon—these writing tips will guide you in how to write for a global audience.
How To Successfully Write For A Global Audience
Include diverse characters. It’s realistic to include a diverse cast in your story. The world is made up of people with different skin tones, ethnicities, sexualities, genders, disabilities, and more, so your characters should reflect that. Be sure to do your research and consult multiple sources and perspectives—especially if you’re not familiar with the experience you’re writing. A diverse cast offers more characters your audience can relate to.
Provide a timeline or graphic for historical events. This is especially helpful to the readers who didn’t grow up taking the same history classes as you. Give your readers tools to help them follow along so they don’t become lost in dates or the timing of historical battles.
Consider measurements and money denominations. These will differ depending on the country, so it may be good to avoid units like feet, inches, and yards (since much of the world uses the metric system!). Some readers may determine the conversion themselves, but making them sit with a calculator while reading takes your audience out of the story—and they may not come back.
Add context. If you use terms or references that are unique to a specific country or culture, be sure to give your reader references that will help them understand the terminology. This can include things like emergency numbers and honorifics, which can vary from country to country. And the fast-food chain you may know as Hardee’s is actually called Carl’s Jr. elsewhere—and doesn’t exist in other places. In this case, using the generic description “fast-food restaurant” makes it easy for all your readers to understand the character isn’t enjoying a meal of steak and champagne.
If the word or phrase you’re using is specific to a certain part of the world, consider offering an immediate translation. Even within a country, there can be local terms that aren’t as well known in other parts of the world: “Wicked” can mean one thing to New Englanders and something entirely different to folks in Poland. Providing context clues will help readers understand what you mean.
Use foreign words correctly. If you’re writing words or phrases in a language that you’re not fluent in, do your research and make sure they are accurate and spelled correctly. A person who speaks Spanish will notice if you confuse “perro” (dog) with “pero” (but)—and the meaning of your sentence will not be what you intended. Here are more tips on how to incorporate foreign language in your writing.
Accommodate translators. If your work is being translated for foreign markets, that’s exciting news! But keep in mind your words or phrases may not convert cleanly from one language to another. Asking for a “ballpark figure” outside of the United States will leave readers scratching their heads. In Scotland, “tartle” means hesitating before introducing someone because you can’t remember their name. But if you don’t follow up the use of “tartle” with either a description or explanation, many readers outside of the United Kingdom may not understand what’s happening in your story or poem.
While writing for a global audience, you don’t have to eliminate every allusion to culture from your story—these elements can capture your unique writing voice! Readers often enjoy learning about other cultures, countries, and communities through stories, books, and poems. Simply be sure to give your audience the tools necessary to understand what they’re reading. And when your work can be understood and appreciated globally, your readership and fan base can grow!
Question: What have you discovered from reading works by diverse authors?