Quotations and Dialogue

Q. I received the following instruction from a production editor regarding a manuscript I was assigned for copyediting: “Only one character speaks British English, and unless he’s in dialogue the spelling should be American.”

I’ve always been under the impression that house style rules and spelling style should be maintained even if a character is British in an American text. How should I approach this?

A. We agree with you. For example, if a British character in an American story referred to the “color” of a particular “jumper,” you would leave the text as is:

“Could I try that jumper in a different color?”


“Could I try that jumper in a different colour?”

and not

“Could I try that sweater in a different color?”

The American narrator might refer to that same character’s “sweater,” but generally speaking the principle to follow is this: Retain American spellings for all narrative and dialogue, even for a British character. Vocabulary alone will establish a character’s Britishness or Americanness, as the case may be.