Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Okay, I am back from my vacation to London. It would have been truly memorable if I hadn't suffered terrible allergies that attacked my eyes quite painfully. We managed everything that we wanted to do, and even threw in the concert of Paul McCartney on Sunday evening.

Here's a quandary I am in, and perhaps some of you might have some sound advice. What do you do when readers consistently point out something that should normally be correct, but due to something you can't tell them it isn't? Here's what I mean.

Readers keep pointing out that at times my characters use modern sounding phrases when they speak. They assume that since my world appears medieval that this is wrong. However, the tribe that eventually became the Greatlanders evolved with the help of scientists from earth. Thus, the language they speak is Russian. It is not only modern, but it is even from the 22nd Century, so it is normal that they took these modern aspects of speech from the scientists who taught them much of what they know.

When I first imagined this book, I wanted the sole remaining scientist (the wizard Xax) to reveal where he was from in a series of scenes. However, once I began studying what it takes for a first time writer to get published I had to change my mind. First time writers can't write such a long book (it would have been closer to 200,000 words rather than the 130,000 it is now), plus agents prefer to see us stick to a single genre for our first effort. Because of this I set out to tell The Shard as a stand-alone fantasy with bare hints that there was something more to it.

This leaves me in the current pickle. Everyone, including agents, will think that the language is too modern in spots, while to me it is normal. I suppose I could attempt to detect where each of those problem spots are and change the language, but that is not simple to do, and it should be unnecessary.

Anyone else ever encounter this issue?


  1. Welcome back, Ted. Sorry about your allergies.

    Ref: speech

    This is a ticklish situation and it brings up several questions to reach a conclusion.

    1. Are the Greatlanders a known people, or something you made up? (It's a new term to me.)

    2. If you made it up, there's no problem in seeding clues showing their language (and culture) is descended from another, perhaps unknown race.

    3. If the Greatlanders are a real people then you are writing an alternative history and you have to thread that alternative world throughout the story.

    It's a little hard to diagnose without seeing an actual example, but if readers keep pointing out the inconsistency, it's the language that is throwing them out of the story.

    It has to be corrected even if you have to add pages to make readers aware of why this is so. I don't think it will help changing the words because then it will be inconsistent with the reason these people are different.

    A lot depends on the world building. Are they an isolated people? My guess is after a few decades of intermingling with other tribes, they would lose most of their 'Russian' and stick to the local dialect. But only you know their world well enough to say for sure.

    --my two pence for what it's worth

  2. Well first, welcome back. I thought I was jealous before but Paul McCartney, color me green.

    As to your language it possible you could say something in the first instance the modern language is used...

    "His Lord looked at him when he used the unfamiliar word. Midas could not help his use of terminology, handed down to him by the Great Wizard Xax in the days when the Greatlanders were just beginning. Not only did the Great Wizard teach him the new language but many great ideas in technology as well." Or some such.

    I had written a better response but for some reason blogger ate it. (Or I didn't press the right button.)

    Kind of like how someone speaks French in dialogue but you write, "She answered him in French."

  3. The only living person who knows why the Greatlanders speak differently from the barbarian tribes is Xax, and he has no desire to open Pandora's Box by trying to explain where he came from. It has been 6,000 years since Xax and the other wizards began helping this particular tribe, so at the point of my story there is no constroversy over their use of language. No one finds their language strange. When they interact with barbarian tribes they use the language of that tribe.

    Maria, the Greatlanders are people living on another planet. They were no different from the other barbarian tribes 6,000 years ago, except that they didn't try to kill the scientists right off like other tribes did. Since all POV characters in the book are Greatlanders, and the POV is done in close 3rd, there is no one to say that anything is odd about the language. If I try to add Xax as a POV character then it adds several chapters to the already longish book.

  4. Speach also reflects culture. So even if they were exposed to 22nd century street speak, they wouldn't be "LOL, Down with the bro's in the hood."

    However, the backstory for your world would appear to be one of the things that makes it cool. Suggest you ramp it up, rather than down. Don't reveal the wizard's origins slowly; show him toying with a globe of Earth and listening to Jethro Tull.

  5. Not with dialogue, but other things, yes, I've dealt with this. Basically, you should take what they're saying into account. They are the readers after all. Maybe it does need to change. Also look at your goals: are you writing for readers, for agents, for editors, or for yourself. Your writing (and what you change about it) will change accordingly.

  6. I think you should make a point of it in your query somehow. Make it a 'feature' of your story. Then it's expected. Is that possible?

  7. I'm really not sure what to do, since even if I added the chapters where Xax communicates with his rival (also from earth), those chapters would by necessity come in around half way through, which still leaves me with the issue of language early on.

    Zornhau, that would have worked grear, except that Xax is not a POV character and he doesn't truly come into the story until about the half way point. He also has nothing from earth with him, as he arrived only as a clone and not as his true self. Ugh, this backstory stuff is complicated. It won't even make sense unless you know everything and then it clicks.

  8. Is there a way to breifly describe the backstory - say in one sentence - that you could include with your query?

  9. Alex, I don't think I could without making the story seem completely off.

  10. In my world, the magical creatures learned English from people who have wandered into their world. The adults speak formally, but the young ones speak more modernly (not too modern though, like "hey y'all"). I suppose this could become an issue, but since my novel is a YA novel, I think that formal text at all times might be a bit too much.

    I'll let the agents/publishers decide if it's a problem, and perhaps you should, too, if you think it's better the way it is. I know that your novel isn't a YA novel, which means that I'm not an expert in your genre, but perhaps you could drop in some explanation somewhere.