Fitting in with the Locals

Writing Road Trip by Lisa Bullard | Bookology MagazineThe way we talk can be a dead give­away that we’re from elsewhere.

Google the phrase “pop vs. soda,” and you’ll find col­or-cod­ed maps that divide the coun­try like elec­tion night results. Test this research on the road and you’ll dis­cov­er that there are haters out there who scorn the term “pop” when unsus­pect­ing out-of-town­ers (like me) order fizzy beverages.

If you are a “pop” per­son in a par­tic­u­lar­ly frag­ile state of mind, you might even be tempt­ed to avoid ridicule by down­load­ing one of the maps and adjust­ing your word choice based on the region you’re trav­el­ing through.

Most like­ly few of us will decide to take this extreme mea­sure.  But the truth is, we do choose our words dif­fer­ent­ly, depend­ing on who we’re talk­ing to. If I’m going to tell some­one the sto­ry of my ter­ri­ble week­end, it’s going to be edit­ed dif­fer­ent­ly if I’m describ­ing it to my moth­er or my best friend or my pastor.

Which leads to a fun way to help young writ­ers learn some­thing about the nuances of dia­logue. At some point while your stu­dents are work­ing on a sto­ry, ask them to write three scenes that draw on their sto­ry. Each scene should be a dia­logue-heavy exchange that involves the main char­ac­ter talk­ing with one oth­er per­son about the conflict that the main char­ac­ter is facing.

But in each of the three scenes, the per­son that the main char­ac­ter is speak­ing to will change. First, it will be a par­ent, teacher, or some kind of author­i­ty figure. Then, it will be their best friend or some­one they trust. Final­ly, it will be some­one they don’t like — a sworn ene­my, or some­one they per­ceive to be a rival.

Depend­ing on the age of your young writ­ers, you might have to give them addi­tion­al help with this activ­i­ty. But the goal is for them to rec­og­nize that peo­ple choose what they say — and what they leave unsaid — in part based on the iden­ti­ty of their listener.

Just like a “pop” per­son might choose to mas­quer­ade as a “soda” per­son when they real­ly want to fit in with the locals.

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David LaRochelle
David LaRochelle
7 years ago

I remem­ber trav­el­ing to New York in col­lege and ask­ing the wait­ress for a pop and hav­ing her just stare at me. I also remem­ber some­one from Wis­con­sin in my fresh­man dorm refer­ring to the water foun­tain as a “bub­bler.” And then there’s the rift between us Min­nesotans who play “Duck, Duck Gray Duck” and the rest of the coun­try who play “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Isn’t it won­der­ful that we’re all not the same!