Skip to content

L Is For Language

For the Blogging From A to Z Challenge I’m doing you all a huge favor and filling you in on the 26 Things To Hate About Writing.** I’m hoping by the end of April, I will have convinced all of you not to indulge in the wild insanity of becoming a writer. If I can save even one person from offering themselves up in sacrifice to the mad and fickle word gods, I will have done some good in this world.

Check out each letter’s post here.

LANGUAGE

It turns out if you’re writing a book about outlaws in the Old West, the tone and language of the story is different than say, writing a space opera or a romance novel set in the bleak landscape of the Arctic. As if it isn’t hard enough to use words in the first place, now we’re expected to use appropriate ones in the right context to convey mood and setting. This is why I tried to warn all of you about writing. They keep changing it up on us!

Unless you’re really good and clever and people put up with you because of that, you have to be careful not to get anachronistic. Still, when you go back through your book told from the point of view of African tigers in the Victorian age of exploration, you find things like this:

– Passages that completely fall out of tone with the rest of the story and seem crammed in there. You have to rewrite these, or take them out altogether.
– Words and ideas that wouldn’t be appropriate to your theme and setting. You can’t have your Mongol princess saying “gnarly, dude!” (Though on a sidenote, I love the show Vikings and they’re constantly doing this. Ragnar told Floki to “shut your face” at one point.)
– You later find out a device your character is using wasn’t invented until twenty years later. Sometimes you can play this off as suspension of disbelief, or hope no one knows, as every historical TV drama in existence does. If all else fails, call it Steampunk.

One of the worst things about writing is getting your language right, and consistent, and appropriate to the setting, through the entirety of a book or several books. Sure, it helps immerse the reader in your reality, it makes the story seem genuine, and it helps the prose flow. It also fits the book neatly with others of its genre. But think about this: someone has to be the first person to write about space colonists. By that I mean, 1600’s Pilgrims who go into space, and maybe they have cell phones, and maybe a couple iPads, you know, to take some selfies with the aliens. I sure as hell am not gonna write it, but someone should.


**Disclaimer: If you haven’t figured it out, these posts are pure satire and simply a humorous way to vent my writing frustrations. No offense is intended to anyone. Please, become or continue being a writer. It’s awesome, I swear. It’s super…duper, awesome…heh heh.

Megan Morgan View All

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance author.

35 thoughts on “L Is For Language Leave a comment

  1. During this A to Z I am laying out the characters, plot and setting of a 1866 historical novel about three civil war veterans with a steam locomotive trying to help a red-haired beauty save her family business. I know this challenge you highlight will be very real, to make sure I stay within the confines of the era.

    Like

  2. This sounds like it ties in with the dialogue post, and the argument put forth to have your characters communicate by interpretive dance (that suggestion is going to forever be lodged in my brain 😉 ).

    Like

  3. I’ve been part of a month-long debate on the greeting “hello” and if it ought to be used before the invention of the telephone, and if so, by who.

    Vikings was a great show.

    Like

    • Wow….I never thought about that!

      Was? It’s definitely still on, and even better now, in my opinion! They’ve moved on to chronicling the sagas of Ragnar’s sons, and Alex Hogh Andersen, who plays Ivar the Boneless, is PHENOMENAL.

      Like

  4. Did you ever watch Xena or Hercules when they were on TV? Your mention of Vikings made me think of this. They used 20th century slang in what? 3000 BC or something? Not to mention that Xena was both friends with Goliath (*how* many years BC?!?) and was “special friends” with Marc Antony AND Brutus (or at least Marc Antony, and maybe just regular friends with Brutus), and let’s not forget that Caligula made an appearance at one point…I loved both shows, but they were so messed up in their historical timelines, “poetic license” doesn’t begin to describe it…so I guess I shouldn’t have been too shocked at the modern slang in ancient Greece, I mean, look how Disney butchered Hercules in their animated movie…that in no way resembles the actual stories, and their modern language was only the beginning…(by the way, just in case anyone was wondering I hated the animated Hercules…I like the original stories way too much to even bother with watching it more than once…hmmm, maybe I should do a post on my site sometime about all the ways Disney screwed it up…)

    That being said, most days I consider myself fortunate to be able to string more than two words together in a conversation and be coherent to anyone other than myself (and sometimes not even that), so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much when someone else wants to attempt to do so on paper… 😛

    Like

    • I never watched those shows, but I definitely know about them and that sounds hilarious. Maybe at some point they were like ‘screw it, let’s just be as absurd as possible.’ The thing about Vikings is they’re not trying to be the least bit absurd at all, and yet all this weird modern slang slips through. I also recall Ragnar calling his brother a ‘bitch’ which was so weird in the context of the show it stuck out like a sore thumb. Mind you, I’ve seen tons of other ‘historical’ TV shows fall into this silly mix up as well. Someone should be watching these writers! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think they’re trying so hard to be relevant and modern enough to keep people’s attention, that they forget they’re writing for a *historical* drama! In Hercules and Xena’s cases, I’m pretty sure it was on purpose most of the time, especially the last couple seasons of Xena. Considering that one of the executive producers was Lucy Lawless’ husband and the other was Joxer’s brother (Joxer was played by Ted Raimi, brother of Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert is married to Lucy Lawless), and the fact that Sam Raimi directed the three Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies…(which Lucy Lawless made a cameo appearance in the second one, she was the pink haired punk chick) that kind of gives you an idea of their mindset. 😛

        Not having watched the shows, you definitely missed out whenever Karl Urban made an appearance. He played Cupid on Hercules, and I don’t know if he reprised the role for Xena or not (when he played Cupid he was a bleached blonde) but he did play a Roman officer a time or two on Xena. I liked how some of the LOTR actors were recognizable on Xena…Karl Urban of course (Eomer), Craig Parker (Haldir), Martin Csoskas (Celeborn) and probably a couple others I’m forgetting.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is the reason why I have not yet tackled historical fiction, although one day I will. I mainly write contemporary so I don;t get caught out with these types of things. When I read good historical fiction, I’m so filled with admiration for its authenticity. Most recently, Conn Iggulden’s Bones of The Hills. On the other hand Zelany in Lord of Light, used both ‘ancient’ and modern speech which I thought sounded ridiculous ( I assume it was done for humorous effect.)

    Like

    • I agree, a really well-written historical novel is a thing of beauty, and I’m so envious of the author. Of course, that author probably spent many a night with eyes glazed over doing research and tearing their hair out, so maybe we shouldn’t be too envious!

      Like

  6. This is why I like speculative. Setting it in the far future means I can have my characters act and speak pretty much any way I like. I also love history though and I’d hate anyone to point out any bloopers in my work. My research would be absolutely painstaking if I was going to write anything set in the past!

    Like

  7. This is such a challenge. I love that you’ve pointed it out. My people are pretty ancient so I struggle not to include words built on stuff that hadn’t been invented yet. Like “He barreled down the hill”–no barrels yet in my world!

    Like

  8. Haha this was funny, made me laugh 🙂 It’s a tough aspect of writing but to be honest I don’t like it when local accents are almost transcribed. For me, it’s not that important. But it’s very subjective of course.

    Like

  9. Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood was a perfect example of what you said. In my latest book, I pepper the story with French Canadian swear words to give the character his own personality. Sadly, I have a problem when books are written completely in slang and dialect. Movies done that way haven’t worked for me either.

    Like

  10. You’re definintely over thinking it. Why bother? If your 18th century, gentrified heroine sounds like she’s from modern south London, who cares? It’s just a matter of opinion, right? Pilgriiiiiiiims in Spaaaacccce … echo … echo … echo
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Shapeshifters and Werewolves
    P.S. Apologies for being AWOL most of the week – it has been so busy around here.

    Like

    • No worries, I’ve been offline for a few days too, just catching up now!

      And you’ve lifted the veil from my eyes. I think it’s definitely time to write that Valley Girl character in the middle of the Roman Empire that I’ve been dying to create!

      Like

  11. Now, now. I think you’re getting this wrong.
    I mean, have a look at many of the novels out there. Not to mention films and (that’s the worst) TV shows. There are anachronisms and inappropriate language everywhere.
    Do anynoby complain? No. So why should ‘I’ care about being accurate and proper when writing in an historical setting?
    That’s ridiculous, I’m not doing it whatever you say!

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir

    Like

  12. My latest book, Daygar Legacy (shilling!) is set in 1348 in France. I have characters from different parts of Europe, and the one language they speak in common is French (which at the time was considered the diplomatic language, much like English is today). However, I didn’t want to write the entire story using only words they would use (and I don’t speak French), so I gave a message in the forward that the characters are actually speaking French, but it’s been translated to our modern language.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s a great way to handle it. One thing that always drives me crazy in books or TV is when it’s implied the characters are speaking another language but we’re hearing it in English, HOWEVER, every once in a while the writer has them say a random word in their own language. Like, if we’re hearing English even though they’re speaking something else, ALL the words should be in English.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: