Thursday, July 12, 2007

Switching Gears

At the Wyrdsmiths meeting tonight, I apologized for not having posted here in about a hundred years, and Lyda suggested that I write about switching gears. I've written traditional/historical fantasy; the book I recently finished is urban fantasy; and I'm currently working on juvenile SF.

The thing I notice most frequently, switching to urban fantasy from traditional fantasy, is that I no longer had to censor the word "okay." I write my books using relatively modern language. I figure that my characters aren't speaking English anyway and theoretically I'm translating, so I'll just translate them into contemporary English, minus egregious neologisms and modern slang. But Americans use "okay" for everything. Are you okay? It's okay. Okay! I need you to stay right here, okay? Etc., etc., etc. I actually run a search for both "okay" and "OK" as part of my pre-beta-draft editing process just to be absolutely certain that I didn't slip and put it in. In Holy Week, it was perfectly OK for my characters to say "okay," and yet for a while, every time I typed it some part of my brain started waving a red flag, and I had to tell it to shut up, the word was OK in this story.

More important (and harder) in traditional fantasy are conceptual anachronisms. C.J. Cherryh has a list of antique words and their modern equivalents. It's fascinating to look through, but the first time I read it, the entry that jumped out at me was the one for heart: "not understood to circulate blood, only to beat quickly when excited." It's hard to avoid conceptual anachronisms because there are so many things that are so deeply embedded in our knowledge base that it's extremely difficult to remember that they are relatively recent additions to human knowledge. At the same time, this is the sort of thing that gives you a window into the world you're writing about.

With contemporary characters, I don't have to worry so much about it; what we know, they know. With the protagonist of my juvenile SF novel, though, the problem comes back but from a completely different direction. Jean is 10 years old and living in the future, and the audience is seeing the world through her eyes. Just as there are pieces of our embedded knowledge base that Molly, my six-year-old, is completely clueless about, there are important things about her own universe that Jean doesn't know, or doesn't give any thought to because it's just the way the world works.

I've been suffering heavily from imposter syndrome lately (this is when you feel like a complete faker even though you have books that really honestly have been published and everything) which is why I haven't posted here much. So I'll just note for the record that I really don't know anything about writing children's literature. I want to write some SF with a girl protagonist for Molly. I love reading children's books (good ones, anyway). But I've never written for children before. Once I'm done I'm going to attempt to recruit some juvenile beta readers with observant parents who can tell me where their kids put the book down, because honestly, I have observed my own child's reading patterns pretty closely and there are many things that are still a total mystery to me.

1 comment:

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hmm. I think I write better when I'm aware I need to be learning than I do when I think I know what I'm doing. It isn't comfortable, but it's probably best for me (and my work) in the long run.

Besides, this way you get the fun of going back over something you've anxiously scribbled down and discovering it doesn't suck after all. :)