1. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    Contemporary Words in Fantasy a Bad Thing?

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Gammer, May 13, 2009.

    So in my fantasy story, to shake things up, and to avoid the dialouge being stilted and boring I decided to have the characters talk in a more contemporary fashion. Sort of like they did it in the movie: "A Knight's Tale." The characters for the most part speak appropriately for the Middle Age setting, but every now then throw in some contemporary words and phrases here and there (One of the characters, Watt says, "Heellloooo..." and the MC's love interest says a sarcastic "wow..." at the MC's lame attempt at poetry, etc..)

    But then I got several critiques saying that I should avoid doing that, even if for the most part they speak as they "should." I've even gotten a critique that said, in lieu of the familiar swear words, I should make up my own. To me that would just make the dialouge seem awkward and hard to get into since the reader really has no idea why I just randomly threw in a made-up word.

    So I guess my question is, is having such contemporary words in a fantasy story that big of a deal? Even if it is minimal for the most part? :confused:
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'd pick one or the other, it seems like the kind of thing you are describing would be very jilting...its okay to write with contemporary language if you do it consistently, but if its breaking the mood of the story then its a problem...

    PS: I don't think I'd want to read "Hellooooooo" in any writing, fantasy or not...
     
  3. Unsavory
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    Unsavory Active Member

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    Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing more contemporary dialogue since, if it's a fantasy, the rules are somewhat open to interpretation. I don't understand why everything has to follow the standards of a certain era if it's a fantastical world full of elves and dragons. Perhaps it's the very fact that your mixing it up that disorients people?

    Point is, I think there is a place for what you're trying to do, even if, perhaps, you're not going about it in entirely the right way. (And since I don't think I've read what you're talking about, that's only a guess.)
     
  4. Forde
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    Forde Member

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    I like this; I think it's clever and (fairly) original and if done well can be amusing and thought-provoking.

    Don't listen to anybody that says things like swear words should not be used in a fantasy or medieval setting. Swear words have been around for thousands of years, and will continue long after we're all dead (although the magical contraption I'm perfecting in my cellar might change that)!

    Some people seem to think that bygone ages did not consider themselves 'modern' at the time. They had words enter their vocabularies that they would have considered new and fashionable words just as we today say 'bling' and 'phat', etcetera, and think them modern and 'cutting edge'. Almost everyone, everywhere throughout time has developed irony, sarcasm, swearing, parody, the list goes on.

    Just because Errol Flynn never exclaimed "F*** me sheriff, you've got awful taste in tights." doesn't mean Nottingham's medieval contingent didn't curse at each other.

    In my experience, made up swear words look very naff.

    I would say that the only thing to definately avoid is modern, technical terms.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    What I WOULD avoid is VERY contemporary slang. By the time you get published, or a few years later, some of your wording may become obsolete and even ridiculous.

    Words like "cool" have stood for decades, but in a few years, praising something as "sick" will sound as out of place as calling it "groovy".
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it can be done in A Knight's Tale, any skilled writer can pull it off. The thing to remember is that it has to still keep to the same spirit of the setting, like A Knight's Take does. Knights were like rock stars when they competed in tournaments, so they treated the characters in the movie like rock stars.

    It also has to be well timed, of course, and fit in with the character's personality, like your example of Watt. If it had been set in a more modern world, I could see Watt saying that, just like any modern girl would respond to William the way Joselyn did in the scene when she says, "Wow." They were at just the right moment when the story was getting a bit serious before it needed to be, at that relieved the seriousness, because the movie is primarily a comedy in the Shakesprean style, e.g. crazy, unlikely stuff happens and people get married at the end.

    Making it fit the character's personality should be easy. If you are confident that you can keep to the same spirit of the setting and time it well, go for it.
     
  7. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    Here's some examples of how I plan to have the characters talk, so people can better judge how major or how minor of a "problem" this might be....

    .

    Silence passed over the two as they continued their path down the thick forest.
    “I gotta piss,” Harada announced after a few moments.
    Rin let out an irritated grunt. “Can't you wait until we at least get to a village?”
    “We've been running for hours!” he shot back. “Do you have any idea what that feels like?!”

    “Will you just go already, we've probably lost enough time as is!” Rin barked.
    “All right, all right, jeez.”

    “I’m not leaving you here,” Kumello (MC) said sternly

    “Then man up and let’s go!!” Jelani (older brother) snapped.


    "I'm getting too old for this ****!"-Baruti (the wise old mentor)

    Looking at it now, all the characters speak in a contemporary fashion. I really don't know who I'm writing for yet, probably the YA crowd from the looks of things.
     
  8. Unsavory
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    Unsavory Active Member

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    I don't think it's the contemporary nature of the dialogue that is the problem, at least from these examples. If there is a problem, it's that all the characters seem to talk like stereotypical teenagers, which might be fine if that's what they all are. I find it a little grating on a personal level, but without context, that isn't a fair judgment to make.
     
  9. Forde
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    I can't think of a reason why tough characters shouldn't be allowed to talk in tough terms.

    Your dialogue is very 'contemporary' as you put it: 'man up' is probably (as I understand it) going to be a bit dated in future, something that Cogito mentions, and 'Jeez' might not work either, unless Jesus was a smiliar figure in your story to the one in our world.
     
  10. Pliny
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    This is exactly how I feel. It gives a very petulant, juvenile edge to the dialogue which doesn't suit the (implied) context. If we could get some written context, it might help.
     
  11. JGraham
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    JGraham Senior Member

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    It is a fantasy story, i say go for it. Just as long as it does not sound lame. And avoid Slang like the others said, you don't want something that in three years will make little sense.
     
  12. ManicParroT
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    Swearing, sure. Modern turns of phrase and dialogue - not so much.

    Whenever I read fantasy stories and the characters start talking as if they lived in 21st century America, it shatters the suspension of disbelief enormously.

    The sample is fine, with the exception of "man up" - it sounds very modern to me. It doesn't need to be King James English, but I just can't enjoy dialogue that sounds too modern. If someone said "cool" it would annoy me for the next several pages. I might even stop reading.
     
  13. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm using a medieval setting. I know I'm going for historical accuracy, so I might be a bit biased when I say that using modern words in a medieval setting is a bad idea. When people in your book want to see who's in a jousting tournament, I'd wager they don't google it ;)
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How much historical accuracy? If you truly represent the dialogue of the time, will anyone be able to follow the conversation?

    You will undoubtedly use contemporary language; it's simply a question of how much. and how contemporary.
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    And again, there is being accurate in a literal sense, and there is being true to the spirit of the time. Besides, if it's a fantasy with medieval-style setting, there is no reason it needs to be just like the 12th century.
     
  16. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm using the English translations of some traditional Gaelic phrases that have long since fallen into disuse, and the dialects are made much more apparent in the book through slightly different (English) word connotations, which are demonstrated by characters misunderstanding each other, than they would be today. So, in a sense, I am writing in translated Old Gaelic, for the dialogue, at least.
     
  17. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Hey, it's been done! Hah hah! :D

    "This! is my BOOMSTICK!"


    Anyway, I was considering this a while back. Mixing up contemporary and old-fashioned phrasing and wording.

    My characters, for example, would rarely use contractions, but would use these non-contractions in fairly relaxed sentences.

    "That does not look very cool."

    Now, however, I am considering leaving even MORE modern slang and structure out of my writing than before.
    I have one character who was NOT raised in an intelligent or educated environment, so he'll have the most 'lax speech out of all of the characters.

    I kinda like the idea of having one guy from the 'slums' talking like a contemporary teenager and the rest of them speaking properly. It's so contrasting that it REALLY brings him out. (Though, even being from a relatively uneducated background, he still won't use much modern slang, if any)

    Just something for you to mull over.
     

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