The current story we are writing is set in the southern hemisphere. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just turned out that way as the novel progressed. That’s fine by me. I know all about living south of the equator and as a result it’s easier to write some of the world-building components.
Today I was writing about the weather, and one of the characters says to another, “That wind is straight from the south. I think it’ll snow.”
That’s going to jar some of our northern-hemisphere readers out of the story. After all, for those of you who live north of the equator, I expect that a south wind is a hot wind, much like our north wind is here. If we haven’t done our world-building well enough some readers will say, “This author has no idea,” and become a little less involved in the story.
No matter how hard an author tries, things the reader is unfamiliar with always have the potential to drag a reader out of the story.
One of these, for me, is the word ‘mom’.
Here in Australia our general form of address is Mum and Dad, so when I come across Mom there’s always this jarring moment where reality intrudes and takes me out of the book and plonks me right back into twenty-first century North America. I’m sure, likewise, Americans (and some Canadians) have a similar reaction to ‘mum’.
That’s why, in our stories, unless we’re trying for a particularly Australian tone (here’s looking at you, Danny and Gibbo) we’ll often try for different terms for parents. In this current book it’s Ma and Da, but you have to be careful with what you use. Ma and Da give the book what I’d call an almost peasant feel. Which works in this case because the story has a rural setting, but Ma and Pa aren’t exactly elegant, are they. What do rich people call their parents? Mother and Father? Mama and Papa? The problem is that naming parents is something everyone (or almost everyone) does. As a result it comes with a lot of preconceived stereotypes. Calling someone ‘mother’ conveys a different relationship that calling them Mom or Mum. A more formal one, and probably one from a family with more money. Mama (or Maman) and Papa are exotic and slightly foreign, and so on. At least, to this reader they are.