One of the more difficult aspects of writing is creating a believable universe for your characters to play out their adventures. While contemporaries work in our current world, there is the element of world-building to create realistic social systems and towns. But even more complicated is world-building of fantasy and science fiction.
Nothing breaks the illusion quite like modern slang being used in a fantasy universe. While I was reading The Queen’s Rising, I ran into this a few times, and it detracted from the world being built there. Fantasy requires such a level of suspension of disbelief that the author needs to be careful to stick to the constraints of the world. Using language you would find in the 21st century United States, reliant on metaphors from pop culture, breaks away from a sword-and-magic-wielding world of dragons and queens.
That said, there’s a fine line in what is appropriate language to include in a fantasy. I remember reading an interview with Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Name of the Wind) sometime earlier this year where he discussed language and fantasy. I apologize upfront, because I just spent about an hour trying to find this interview and wasn’t able to locate the original source… but basically, what he said is this: language in fantasy is a slippery slope. On the one hand, you don’t want to use phrases like “Do or do not, there is no try” because that’s a Star Wars reference and requires the universe to either have Star Wars, or else have a Yoda clone which is, essentially, plagiarism.
On the other hand, you can’t analyze too much, because you’ll lose your mind. Using adjectives like “beautiful” technically requires Old French, because it comes from “biauté” and the French are probably not in your fantasy world? Because this is not our world, it’s a different one. Analyzing language to this depth would drive an author crazy. So language in fantasy is very complicated. If you’re not careful enough, you break the illusion. If you’re too careful, you end up writing a novel in your own homemade language.
I’m finding that more and more of the new fantasy novels are pulling a little too much of its language from modern speech. Personally, it drives me crazy, though I do appreciate how difficult it must be to assure that modern language patterns don’t make it into the final manuscript. It can easily ruin a book for me if I don’t believe in the world.
Is it just me?
This week’s Book Blogger Hop asks:
18th – 24th – Is there anything that drives you bonkers when you’re reading a book and makes you want tell the author a thing or two?
Short answer: So on one hand, no of course not. I’m not strictly qualified to tell a published author anything. There are definitely aspects of novels that disappoint me, that make me wonder what the author was thinking, or times where I’ve read things I believed more. But I’d never go up to someone and say, “Well, listen here!”