On Colloquialism in Fantasy Writing

Language is a powerful thing. So much is wrapped up in that word, so many divisions that separate and define people–Southern Americans versus Midwesterners, Cornish versus Cockney, etc. Any writer knows this. Achieving proper, distinct diction in writing can add a whole other layer to immersive quality.

Unfortunately, it takes time to develop the ear and the eyes in that direction. For the unwary reader, it can stumble them–look how many fumble with the Great Bard’s classic speeches and Twain’s twangs these days, and how many miss out on great works because of them.

I love colloquial speech, but especially in a fantasy world, where readers are already trying to settle their feet and get a feeling for the world they’ll be sifting through, I fear it can be too much. Good colloquialism is something that, when done well, is something you cease to notice very swiftly. But I dare say in mainstream fiction, or nonfiction, what have you, that colloquialism also comes with an innate ground: we have basic conceptions of Welsh, say, or German intonations, or Arabic. Even if we’ve never heard the phraseology before, most have already formed conceptions of the place or have some little knowledge of it: we ground the language firmly in that knowledge and do our best to move forward with it so located. We work toward its sounds from a different direction.

In a fantasy world, there is no such pre-existing “ground”. Many people also don’t have the patience to develop the means to interpret such. They want to dive into a world and be immersed, snap of your fingers, without the need to assemble a different sort of ciphering to get to that point. Thus, key words can be a better means, perhaps, to establish dialect and that sense of “the other” than full-blown colloquialism. It’s been something, I confess, to having battled my way through with The Hollow March and its sequels–how hard do I let the hammer of (often) class-based language barriers fall? The Nobles, with their precious jurti and guarded refinements, speak in a necessarily different version of the same tongue than many of the “Common Folk”. Most often, I have settled to let this come through in the use/non-use of contractions, older uses of similar words, with hardcore, jilting colloquialism reserved for specific characters: such as Chigenda, who has a very limited grasp of the language ANY of the other characters are tossing around him.

In the end, to any fellow writers reading this, I’d say in the end I’ve landed on a school of thought of using full-blown colloquialism at your own peril, as it may isolate you from some reader base. They’re there for the world, and above all, they want to understand it, be immersed in it; colloquialism is surely more immersive, but only once they’ve broken inside its external shell!

Burning Letters

Been caught in a funk lately. A semi-writer’s block. Not enjoying it, I must say. Even so, that’s not stopped me from putting up another One Shot Wednesday piece this week, but I’d once again caution, not my best. If you see any issues, rip it apart to your best. Maybe critique will jar me from the funk and get the mind working again.

They say it’s good to have confidence no matter what but…well…yeah. Too self-conscious for that nonsense! At any rate, I give to you, “The Smell of Burning Synonyms,” and also a great video from Stephen Fry on language.

Burn me with letters and I

will put those letters in the fire,

the ashes will become the ink

of your iniquity, this quill like

sword, slow-moving through the black

ichor of disapproval, spooning out

doubt’s desire; why is it Synonyms

always burn the hottest?

* My latest contribution to the wonderful One Shot Poetry Wednesdays! Once you’ve had a look, check out some of the other One Shot Poets as well–they’re a skilled bunch of poets, with a strong and supportive community.  Enjoy!

I Still Have a Voice

Just because I cannot hear

Does not mean I have no voice.

My hands are my words

Flowing out like rivers

And these eyes,

They see

Though you look at me as a man blind—

Blind enough to see

Your hands in motion

Signing off my rights

Signing off the hope

That brought me here today.

I am not silent

But you silence me

Bury me in paperwork

Another numerical nonentity

Less a face than a dollar sign—

Black ink rain down

And you break my world

With a pen for a sword—

How can you look at us this way

Hear our pleas, hear our cries

And still sit, as statues

Unmoved, unbroken

Drowning us

With care.

This Wednesday’s post has several dedications. It is first and foremost dedicated to the Deaf Education and American Sign Language students at MSU, who this year, as part of budget cuts, had their programs completely cut from the academia here. I also dedicate this to the deaf community at large, who all have felt the pain of this loss. Eastern Michigan University is the only other University in Michigan to offer such programs to the community.

As usual, it is also for the wonderful One Shot Poetry Wednesdays–once you’ve had a look, check out some of the other One Shot Poets as well– they’re a skilled bunch of poets, looking to form a community and support one another.  Enjoy!

Photos by myself, Chris Galford, from the final MSU Board of Trustees meeting last school year. The alphabet presented below is the alphabet of American Sign Language–a language certain board members previously claimed was “not a real language.”