Grammar Quirks: Sara Fujimura on Writing Bicultural Characters

Sara Fujimura, author of "Faking Reality" and "Every Reason We Shouldn't," discusses the importance of realistic (sometimes not correct) dialogue. 

Sara Fujimura, Writing for
3-minute read

Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?

Sara Fujimura: "Awesome"! I am a teen of the 1980s, so that word is entrenched in my vocabulary. Thank you, "Lego Movie," for making my teenage slang relevant again. Also, my apologies for the earworm from that movie, which is now undoubtedly playing in your head.

GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?

SF: "Literally," because it is overused and often misused on top of it.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

Good grammar is important, but it’s the tone that gives your work voice.

SF: "Hors d’oeuvres." “Horse doovers!” I had to look it up yet again just now.

GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?

SF: "Sugoi"! Like “wow” in English, this Japanese word can be used in several different ways, but I like to use it in response to positive surprises.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

SF: Incorrect apostrophe usage. “Womens Restroom” makes me cringe. Also, when people use an apostrophe to make things plural. Like, “I ate four Oreo’s.” It’s "Oreos." I may or may not carry a Sharpie around in my purse and correct signage on the sly. I can’t help myself.

GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?

SF: For those who don’t know me, I am the American half of our bicultural/biracial Japanese-American family. So you won’t be surprised to hear that my contemporary young adult novels feature mixed Asian teens as the main character and/or the love interest. Even though I have been studying Japanese on-and-off for twenty years, I still ask several of my Japanese friends to look at the Japanese-specific parts of my books. Though my Japanese might be technically correct, it’s often not realistic. Why? Because I speak/write textbook Japanese which tends to be ultra-polite. A teen boy wouldn’t speak that way to his best friend.

Writers: Do NOT rely on Google translate. Make sure you have a native speaker check it for both accuracy and tone.

Even if you only write in English, know that good grammar is important, but it’s the tone that gives your work voice. Tone is the thing I help my Japanese friends with the most. Again, their word choice may be technically correct, but if they are writing about a sensitive issue, I help them soften the tone or strengthen it with specific word choices.

GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?

SF: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living, Harper, 1960.


Or, in other words…sharing your art with the bigger world is terrifying. Do it anyway!

GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?

SF: Advanced comma usage befuddles me. Did the rules change since I was in school? Did I learn them incorrectly? Is it more of a style choice? I’ve learned a lot working with copyeditors on my books, but I still haven’t figured out a definitive formula.