When I write my Jewish romances, I’m very aware that many of my readers are not Jewish. Therefore, while I might understand the meanings of certain Yiddish words or phrases, my readers might not. In addition, my characters might be practicing certain customs that make sense to me, but are confusing to others.
Most of my critique partners are not Jewish, so they catch what I miss, but while I’m writing, I try to make sure I’m being clear about everything. And there are three methods I typically use.
The first is what I call “the CSI method.” CSI started the forensic science trend on TV and needed to make its viewers understand what it was doing and why. So the characters would explain what experiments they were doing as they were performing them. When my characters are prepping for a holiday, for example, I will often have them discussing what they’re doing and why with another character. The risk I run is making their discussion believable, and not turning it into a lesson, which would be overly obvious and not a discussion that two of my characters would typically have. In general, my Jewish characters know why they’re doing something and wouldn’t need to explain it. So the explanation has to be subtle.
The second method I use is translation. I typically pepper these books with Yiddish words and expressions because they’re used in my own every day life. Some words are known by the general public, but many are not, so when I use them, I try to include either a synonym nearby or make it obvious from the context what my characters are saying. I don’t want to use a dictionary in the back of the book because some people find it takes them out of the story.
And when those two methods won’t work, I fall back on the kids. Most of my stories include children, and they are very useful for asking questions and getting answers so that the reader knows what’s happening.
What do you think? Are there other methods I should consider?