Thursday, July 03, 2008

Something Doesn't Belong

Here's something that I've noticed in a few different stories I've read and recommended for rejection. It's the use of modern language and dialogue in sword and sorcery. People, I can't tell you how annoying this is. Whatever voluntary suspension of disbelief has been built up is completely shattered when the characters continue to use modern colloquialisms when talking with each other. If you want your fiction to be believable then you have to watch how your characters speak. (If you really want to score bonus points then you'll also watch how they think but that's for another time.) The only way this can happen in these submissions is that the writer just doesn't know any better. I hope they're not sitting at their computer and thinking about how hip they can make their characters because if they are, they shouldn't be writing S&S. Throwing a bunch of archaic language around is not the solution either. There is a seriousness and formality that is commonly used and that sort of speech has become the convention. If you have to have a character which talks differently than all the rest, which is a good idea, then make up some mild slang or quirky turns of phrase. Work it into the story and let other characters reveal how different it is. Whatever you do, don't make your characters sound like their working at, like, The Gap. Y'know?



I've ranted about this to authors when editing their historical or fantasy fiction. However, when others have read my work, they want the archaic-sounding stuff removed, because most modern readers just wouldn't understand what a tabor is, or a pair of trews, or a baldric, kirtle, what-have-you.

I hold fast, and do not dumb down the material.

A few years ago, I was editing a bit of fantasy set in England and stumbled across the word "canyon" in a description of the landscape.

I noted in the margin that the word did not fit the time period or the countryside, as "canyon" is Spanish in origin, and that particular spelling of it is an Americanization of "canon".

When the book was published, "canyon" stayed. One can only do so much in the de-dumbing of readership.

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Interesting, Keanan; I agree wholeheartedly.

I have to write policies and training material for city employees, and among the things I've been taught/instructed/advised (whatever you want to call it) through training-the-trainer sessions, workshops, etc., is to do what apparently is the business-as-usual and politically correct way to write such things: at the 5th grade reading level. Apparently, according to friends in other businesses and even in the U.S. military, that is common to all.

Now this is difficult for me, not only to consistently do so in my work writing, but in turn it begins to bleed over into my fiction writing. When told to write at this level, I first like to argue back that legalese is not required to follow such a standard, in business contracts or in state statutes. But my favorite reply to someone insisting I do this?

Is to say that I do and offer my 5th grade daughter as evidence - What I 'forget' to mention is that she is currently reading at a 9th grader's level. :)

Jeff Draper said...

I've run into the 'keep it at a fifth grade level' thing in the Marine Corps as well when putting together a training class. Surprisingly, the Marine Corps is the first to tout how they have a higher percentage of high school graduates than the Army. (Of course that leads into a discussion of public schools...)