Monday, February 18, 2013

Writing Boston

Good Monday,

I’m feeling nostalgic today, and I’m missing my Boston something fierce. But until the cost of living in New England goes down, I’ll have to be content with watching the snow progress from afar.

No worries, though. I intend to turn my homesickness into a productive blog post for writers. Look at me being all “for the greater good” –ish.

A large part of realism in a novel set on Earth is accuracy. It is very important to know your setting. If you’ve set your story in Panama, for example, I beg you not to have three feet of snowfall unless it’s post-apocalyptic Panama.

I spent the first 24 years of my life in Massachusetts. As I’ve heard many times about other places, “you can take the girl out of Boston, but you can’t take the Boston out of the girl.” This is true, and today I’ve got some Massachusetts details for anyone writing about the area.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, Bostonians are not jerks. A bit egotistical (lol), yes, but not jerks. If you really want to set your Boston characters apart from the rest, we curse in public, glare a lot, and shout a lot of nasty stuff when you cut in front of us while driving. But under most of the callous exteriors, there are people worth knowing.

-Speech Patterns

For the record “we don’t have accents. The rest of the world does.”

A lot of Bostonians drop their “r”s. I don’t unless I’m angry, but I’ve known plenty who do. To get the accent right, try the traditional old standby “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd.” It should read “Park the car in Harvard Yard,” but really, who talks like that? Oh, the rest of the world, right.


Saying something is “wicked” is an England thing. Well, Boston is in New England, so we adopted it. (I’m not sure if that’s true, but it sounds good.) We use “wicked” to modify things, though. One popular saying is “wicked awesome.” Then you have your die-harders who say (dun dun dun) “wicked pissa.”

-Community Behavior

Jaywalking. We love jaywalking. If you go to Boston and don’t jaywalk, people will stare at you. It’s an expected way of crossing streets. The drivers know it’s coming, and they honk anyway. Without being offensive, New Englanders have notoriously short memories for trivial stuff. Once behind the wheel, they forget that they were jaywalking twenty minutes ago.


The same short-term memory issue applies to the seasons. In the winter, we complain that it’s cold. In the summer, we complain that it’s hot. Both times, it is as if the weather has never been any other way, and why won’t it ever hurry it up and get to the next season!?!?

Oh and spring doesn’t exist. Autumn is “the time when the trees turn pretty colors” and, to a lot of people, may as well be winter.

-Pronunciation Guide

Worcester – It looks like Wor-chester. It’s not. It’s not even Wooster. It’s Wistah. I don’t know why all those extra letters are in there.

Peabody – If this wasn’t my hometown, I wouldn’t bother with it because odds are good you’ve never heard of it. It’s not Pea-body. It’s Pea-biddy. Get it right!:)

Massachusetts Avenue – Mass Ave. Short, sweet, to the point.

Massachusetts Turnpike – Mass Pike

Cape Cod – It’s just “the Cape” to Mass natives.

Bostonians – I’ve tried, and you feel free to try if you’d like. There is no way to say people from Massachusetts by adding letters to the end of the state. Massachusettens? Massachusettians? Massachusettizians? No. People from Massachusetts are simply “Bostonians,” even if they aren’t from Boston itself.

-Navigation Guide

For the whole state

North Shore – anything north of Boston but still relatively close to the ocean

South Shore – Anything south of Boston but still relatively close to the ocean

Greater Boston area - the area inside 128 (not Route 128. 128)

Western Massachusetts – everything else. Not unnaturally, the western part of the state has developed a bit of “grr” from always being lumped together like this. But who listens to them anyway? (I’m from the North Shore. Can you tell?)

For Boston

North End – Northern Boston. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an Italian restaurant, and it is not called “Little Italy.”

South Boston – Southie to locals

East Boston – The airport’s there. Other than that, I have no idea.

Dorchester – It’s technically part of Boston, but people from Dorchester are “from Dorchestah.”

Jamaica Plain – Technically part of Boston, but people from Jamaica Plain are “from JP.”

Brighton – same as above

Brookline – same as above

Mattapan – same as above

There are more of these. To quote the king from “The King and I” “etc. etc. etc.”


Boston and the surrounding areas have public transit. There is the subway, the commuter rail, the ferry, and the busses. All the info for all branches/routes is available at the official MBTA website. I defer you there because they have maps that will be more helpful to your characters than me describing the city.

There’s my two cents.

As a parting gift, here are a few books set in Massachusetts.

“The Killer’s Cousin” – Nancy Werlin
Victory Vaughn Series – Nancy Holzner
The Rizzoli and Isles books – Tess Gerritsen
“Cell” – Stephen King


  1. Yay! Good to know I got it right. :D

  2. Loved Boston! Everyone was really nice there actually - way nicer than in Baltimore! I definitely tried the jaywalking with great success...I got to the other side. LOL :)

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