Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Language and Fantasy // Welcome to Ink, Inc.

Language is really very interesting.

This is hardly a shock statement from the girl who just spent two hours writing her novel and reads like there's no tomorrow. I love language: every facet of it, the fluid meanings of any given word, the way in which black and white text can conjure up a picture as vividly as if it were there in front of you. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that it's stunningly powerful. 

Plot, character, setting, theme aside; language can utterly shape the tone of a book. Think of The Lord of the Rings: every word rings with ancient kings and elvish halls, fellowship and golden trees and mighty quests. Or take The Raven Boys: that beautiful balance between liquid prose and sharp, contemporary humour.

Recently, I've been thinking specifically about language in fantasy. 

Let's talk about A Song of Ice and Fire.




A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin's epic series, is high fantasy at its absolute highest. He draws richly on age-old fantasy tropes: a wintry kingdom where the throne is steeped in blood, full of quests and dragons and beautiful queens, redolent with images of the Wars of the Roses, or Ancient Rome. I don't watch Game of Thrones (the TV series) but I understand that the characters have English accents; Martin is cultivating an idea of monarchist medieval Britain, a culture which he's appropriated because America has no such history. He uses archaic terms to underline his point: parley", mayhaps", leal", thee". This is, doubtless, the tone he's going for; old England, a time that is lost.

As such, I always want to get my red pen out and scream across the page when an Americanism creeps in.

Gotten", to give one of quite a few examples, happens annoyingly often. I'm sure this is not intentional on Martin's part, but as an American writer with (presumably) an American editor, there are things that are going to slip through the net of his normally very well-crafted medieval-England" tone. These are things I've no doubt he'd change if he could. (They do not, of course, stop ASOIAF from being like my favourite thing ever. But still.)

On the other hand, there's Throne of Glass.


I read Throne of Glass in April, and Crown of Midnight in September. This series, by Sarah J Maas, is probably the biggest YA high fantasy series out there at the moment. It presents a high fantasy world falling, broadly, into classic tropes: a huge continent, a scary king, magic and intrigue and lots of weapons. In one way, Maas, too, is adopting the “medieval England" tone; one example, in particular, is her constant use of the word “behold", as in, “Celaena beheld herself in the mirror." This is a “high fantasy" tone if ever I saw one.

There are also blatantly modern terms and Americanisms.

“Celaena tried to keep her tone sassy."

Chaol shrugged. 'Some people go a little stir-crazy being cooped up inside all winter.'"

My first reaction was to cluck like a disgruntled chicken. “Americanisms!" I tut. “How irritating! Totally detracts from the high fantasy feeling!"

I've been thinking, though, and that is the question: does it?

At first, reading Throne of Glass, I assumed that Maas, like Martin, was using accidental modern terms. But by the time we got to Crown of Midnight and Chaol's use of the term “stir-crazy", I started to think that it might not be accidental at all.

It's an interesting question: with what accent does Maas imagine her characters speak? Is she subscribing to that same old high-fantasy-England cliche? Or is she consciously creating an American fantasy world, as has very seldom been done before? Celaena has got a lot more of the all-American heroine about her, in my opinion, than some medieval English maid. Perhaps Maas is leading the charge of modernisms in high fantasy: an interesting fusion of tropes and diverted expectations.

I'd love to hear your opinion on this topic! Is Chaol's stir-craziness a mistake, or is Maas pioneering a new movement? Do you also get annoyed by the Americanisms in ASOIAF? Let us chat.

Oh, and also, have you noticed that I've renamed and redesigned my blog??

Basically, I'd been thinking for a while that the name Emily Etc., though once lovely and perfect (to me), had become outdated. I'd moved on. I liked it once, but I no longer felt it matched the tone of my blog. I wanted something to reflect, more fully, the fact that I'm a book and writing blogger.

Thus, Ink, Inc. was born.

I've not changed my url (and I'm not going to, ever again, because it's too much work), but I do have a new blog button, so if you're wonderful enough to display it somewhere on your site, a little upgrade to the new button (on my lefthand sidebar) would be much appreciated. 

I hope you like the new name/look! I'm having a bit of a font nightmare, in that some of my old posts just will not switch from purple Georgia, but I think we're just going to have to live with that. 

Aside from this exciting redesign, I have one piece of news, which is that my good friend Joanna has finally converted to my bloggy pressuring and made her own blog! It's called Starlight on the Western Seas, and you should 100% take a look because she is 100% fab.

Have a lovely evening!

18 comments:

  1. I like your new blog name!! I thought I'd come to a different blog when I first came on but AFJDKSAL IT'S LOVELY. XD

    And I totally know what you mean...I think fantasies need to be consistent. Like I feel like Throne of Glass is okay to slip in the modernisms because a) I think it's set in a slightly more earlier time...maybe Renaissance? with the piano and all the glass *nods* and b) it's YA so I guess she's making sure to keep her audiences on the same level and not scare them off. I didn't even notice Game of Thrones slipping up!!

    But today I was reading Falling Kingdoms *shudders* And they REALLY went for an old-fashioned sort of speech...using "thees" occasionally too. And then suddenly at the end the dude is like "Let's split the kingdom 50/50." LIKE IT DOESN'T GET MORE MODERN THAN THAT. O.O I was really annoyed. I think it needs to be consistent. So if epic fantasy is going to be modernish = they should do it all the way through. If they do, I don't mind so much. I prefer witty bantery modernish dialogue anyway XD

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    1. Thanks! Ha, I am enjoying confusing all my followers in this way XD

      Consistency is or at least SHOULD BE the name of the game. Renaissance, interesting! I always thought it was later (than ASOIAF) because of the billiards, but actually I have almost zero knowledge of the subject! The piano and the glass, though, Renaissance *would* make sense.

      Ha, that sounds so annoying! That's the kind of that really gets my goat (which incidentally is my fave expression). Like be consistent PLEASE!

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  2. Yes, yes, yes. Love the new design. Very sophisticated and cool!

    asdjesgih... Americanisms in ASOIAF is a pet peeve. Not the fact that they're American in particular - just that they are so modern in a world that is so clearly NOT SUPPOSED TO BE MODERN. But hey, I still ADORE it!

    I haven't got round to reading the Throne of Glass series yet - but it's creeping closer to the top of my reading list and I am VERY excited.

    And thanks for the shout-out pal :-)

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    1. Thank you!

      Right?! It's the “gotten"s that kill me, I have to say.

      SO GOOD! BE EXCITED! So excited for Heir of Fire ~rapid panting~

      You're welcome :)

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  3. I love the new name and design, Emily. Like Cait, I was thinking I landed on a different blog... :)

    Weirdly enough I never caught that about ASOIAF until you mentioned it just now, especially gotten. I had no idea gotten wasn't used in Britain (medieval or not). Then again, I'm an American so yeah...

    As for Throne of Glass, I have never imagined the characters with British accents. They've always sounded American in my head whereas ASOIAF characters have always sounded British in my mind.

    Either way, I like the tone to stay consistent over the course of a book or a series, and for the most part, I'd say they both do a decent job of that.

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    1. Thank you! Ha, well, no, I'm still here! XD

      Gotten is a modern American construction ... I wouldn't use it that often myself, and the older British generation never would. So it really grates in ASOIAF.

      Same! I think that Throne of Glass is pretty cool in that it is American fantasy that is proudly American. Sometimes the “behold"s are a bit much for me but overall I agree, both Martin and Maas maintain their tones pretty well :)

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  4. I haven't read either of these, but misplaced modernisms are definitely a pet peeve of mine. Like Cait and Lauren both said, if it's consistent and feels like it should be there, that's totally fine. But when a random modern phrase gets thrown in, it throws all the worldbuilding off kilter! Last summer I read a book that had a few too many modernisms . . . Okay, so this other world DID have contact with ours, but it was still too much to be believable. And they had pizza. o.O Which was weird.

    Love the new design!!! It's appropriately inky, plus it's nice and distinct. ^_^

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    1. You should definitely read them both! They are *almost* consistent. I love them both lots and lots.

      Pizza?! That does sound very weird. O.o

      Thank you! :D

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  5. I LOVE the new blog title! It's awesome! :D

    Okay, so I've never thought of this much. The language in fantasy. Well, I have. But usually just when I'm the one writing. Unless the author sets up the book to be more medieval in language, I don't general notice. Maybe it's because I am American? I don't know. If the author does set the book up to have such a high fantasy feel, I do notice the aberrations though. And some of them are really ridiculous.

    I haven't read either of these books. But I think it would be really cool if Maas was trying for a kind of American background for her fantasy realm. That would be different. And I really do want to read her! So much!

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    1. Thanks! :D

      I've been noticing it especially recently, mostly in terms of ASOIAF and TOG, but also in redrafting TCATT and trying to work out what kind of tone I'm going for. I don't do "beheld" or "mayhaps", but does that make it OK to go for "I guess" or "hi"? I JUST DON'T KNOW. What do you do??

      You should definitely read Maas! (And Martin. Much the superior in my opinion. But TOG is still brilliant, I love it.)

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    2. Agh! I don't know either! But it really does make a huge difference if your characters go around saying "Greetings" or just "Hi" or "Salutations." Every. Stinking. Time. they greet someone. I guess it depends how archaic you want to get? I mean, Oddball is definitely not high fantasy, so I don't even try. Rocky, alone, is very American. Shamdrams do have their peculiar phrases sometimes, and Peril phases between Shamdram and normalcy just because she's relatively good at blending in if she wants to. Although when she's with another Shamdram, you can tell her speech reverts to very Shamdram (I don't even do it on purpose, it's kind of scary).

      Eelistle/Brayden though. . . depends what world you are in. The human realm is American with a mix of the medieval. The elven realm is very traditional of and almost even ritualistic of all the high fantasy cliches. It's almost like their religion or something. Maybe I'm nearly satirizing it with the elves? I don't know. . . But Eelistle is SUPPOSED to talk different. I'm not sure if he actually does though aside from avoiding contractions, because contractions are too informal for elves. Though his thoughts are much looser. Plus, Eelsitle has been influenced by the human realm, which he actually prefers, so he's a mixture.

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    3. Ha, I completely understand about characters' speech patterns totally establishing themselves! When Queen Jacinthe is talking she goes all crazy posh and metaphorical. I don't even know where it comes from.

      That's so interesting, though, that Oddball's not high fantasy ... because what is it?!

      Satirising high fantasy with elves sounds brilliant. You should go for it! (That is kind of my idea for the Aithne book.) I have noticed, though, from the brief bits I've read, that Eelistle is different to Oddball, for example, but also to Brayden. It's amazing how much of a character you can create through their language!

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  6. OF COURSE I LOVE THE NEW DESIGN. I don't think I've seen the previous one but I love black and white and non-cluttered designs a lot ;) So you get brownie points from yours truly!

    As for the language in fantasy, I need them to be consistent. I don't mind new words here and there (like replacing fuck with fark or something like that), but when the setting is clearly very medieval and yet you use words that are so 2015, then we're going to have a problem here, book, because I won't like it. It makes me really annoyed when they switch tone and words. Like you said, even the language used can make an atmosphere and even make the setting more immersive. Language, after all, is the product of culture. If that's not consistent, then everything else will crumble after it. At least that's how I think!

    Faye at The Social Potato

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    1. THANK YOU! Black and white is definitely the way forward imo (some people have lovely colourful designs, but I'm a bit scared to risk it, I don't trust my skills!).

      That is how I think also! Consistency is really what I need. It is a tough one, though, because you don't want to alienate your readership by thee-ing and thou-ing all over the place. (Making up slang/swearwords is quite cool though, I agree.)

      Thanks for visiting, Faye! :)

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  7. As someone who occasionally writes in the "standard" medieval-England-based setting, I don't think it's safe to say that the setting is truly based upon England; rather, the setting we Americans use is generically European with the most basic real-world elements intact and new elements added. I don't typically use that sort of dialect, but on the rare occasions in which I do, it isn't meant to reflect any actual historical dialect. That being said, throwing readers out of a story is bad no matter how it is achieved.

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    1. That's an interesting point. I suppose, as other commenters said, consistency is the key. Thank you for digging back through the archives, Patrick! :)

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    2. Haha, I had looked through some of your Twitter feed because I'd forgotten that you have a Twitter account, and I saw "Americanism," so I figured it would interest me.

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    3. Hahaha I too tend to forget I have a Twitter account! I never, um, update it ... oops >.<

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Thanks for commenting! :)