1. alyosha
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    alyosha New Member

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    Defying Conventions

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by alyosha, Dec 3, 2011.

    So the one thing that bothers me about every fantasy novel I've ever been been prevailed upon to read is the fact that nary a single character is even remotely relatable. They just don't have that relatability factor. So anyway, my idea (and I guess you could go so far as to say my philosophy) is that the structure of the typical fantasy novel is not only tired but misguided, and thus in dire need of change. And I'm of the opinion that quite a lot of such change would be needed to remedy the situation.

    But, at the same time, I recognise that too much change might be unpopular. After all, there are certain conventions which are basically staples and tantmaount to security-blankets for the fantasy genre, so I'm hesitant to push my ideas too far. I know it's stupid to care what other people think, and you should really just write the way you want, but I actually want to attract a publisher one day, so I want to take feedback on board.

    Okay, so to give you some perspective, I'm writing the story in first-person. And the character is wont to speak in what I guess you might call an historically incorrect fashion. It's not as if they're speaking like a Californian schoolgirl or anything, but they certainly pay more attention to certain things in their observations than do characters in your typical "epic" fantasy novels.

    Here are some phrases - taken out of context - which I think people might find unbefitting to a fantasy novel.


    I could easily change such phrases to suit what people have come to know as the old-timey way of speaking usually found in such books, but the point is, I don't want to change the phrasing.

    Anyhow, what say you? Do you think a character which speaks to you like an actual person (as opposed to the stereotypical heroic sonnet-singer fantasy guy) will be fetching or merely a faux pas?
     
  2. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have been reading the wrong fantasy novels. "[A] character which speaks to you like an actual person (as opposed to the stereotypical heroic sonnet-singer fantasy guy)" fits comfortably in mainstream fantasy nowadays. Remember that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was fantasy.
     
  3. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    He/she didn't specify (which he/she should have) but he/she is talking about high fantasy.
     
  4. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I disagree with you 100% when you say there is no characters you can relate to in high fantasy.

    I also disagree on your phrases. I have read those in numerous high fantasy books. They are common phrases. Not all high fantasy is written flowery. And even the flowery ones still use most of those phrases.
     
  5. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then delete my Buffy example, and insert Discworld.
     
  6. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    That is indeed a perfect swap.
     
  7. Kirsteen
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    Kirsteen New Member

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    I wouldn't consider a work of fantasy decent if I didn't relate to the characters - perhaps you could give us an example of the type of work you are referring to?

    If I'm honest, what I notice more about your phrases is that they feel a bit cliched, rather than feel modern. I think that while it's sometimes good to shake up conventions, using the kind of unimaginative phrases that teenagers like to grab on to and replicate ad nauseum will take away the freshness of the approach and reduce interest.
     
  8. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I don't think it's the phrasing that's the problem.

    If you take a little time to get used to Early Modern English, Shakespeare is quite relateable. You don't need characters to talk like the reader to be relateable. What you need is characters who react like real people - not necessarily from the same cultural background as you, but acting in consistent, individual ways that make sense from the character's perspective. If you don't have that, no language style will save you. If you have it, then as long as the speech is comprehensible the story will be readable.
     
  9. alyosha
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    alyosha New Member

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    Be that as it may, Shakespeare's characters are basically all talking in iambic pentameter, which I'm sure is even more contrived and inauthentic than anything else you'll ever come across in the literary world.

    However, I guess the point stands that prose is somewhat secondary so long as the character is real enough.

    In any case, the "issue" I'm facing comes about purely because the character in whose voice I intend to speak will be speaking in a tone for which I don't think there is any translation. I could translate the message but not the tone.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the bard's characters do not speak in anything remotely like iambic pentameter... he reserved that for his sonnets and poetic bits inserted here and there... his dialog is simply that... contemporary dialog!
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rather more than "poetic bits inserted here and there." It's closer to the truth that he pretty consistently has commoners speak in plain speech and nobles speak in Iambic pentameter. He wasn't averse to subverting it, though. I've seen long essays on how "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" creeps on because it has an extra syllable. Look at the opening of Hamlet: two sentries speak with no particular metre:
    BARNARDO
    Who's there?
    FRANCISCO
    Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.
    BARNARDO
    Long live the king!
    FRANCISCO
    Barnardo?
    BARNARDO
    He.
    FRANCISCO
    You come most carefully upon your hour.
    BARNARDO
    'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
    FRANCISCO
    For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
    And I am sick at heart.
    BARNARDO
    Have you had quiet guard?
    FRANCISCO
    Not a mouse stirring.​
    BARNARDO
    Well, good night.
    If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
    The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
    FRANCISCO
    I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?

    Then in come Horatio and Marcellus, and oh, look, Horatio is involved so they're speaking in Iambic pentameter (even though they split lines between them, and Francisco -- a commoner -- drops in one extra syllable on Barnardo)
    HORATIO
    Friends to this ground.
    MARCELLUS
    And liegemen to the Dane.​
    FRANCISCO
    Give you good night.
    MARCELLUS
    O, farewell, honest soldier: ​
    Who hath relieved you?
    FRANCISCO
    Barnardo has my place. ​
    Give you good night.
    MARCELLUS
    Holla! Barnardo!​
    BARNARDO
    Say— ​
    What, is Horatio there?
    HORATIO
    A piece of him.​


    That's pretty much typical of Shakespeare; there are huge stretches that are based on Iambic pentameter. Just to pick it out, here are the actual lines, taking account of the indentation to know when they run on between characters:
    Friends to this ground. And liegemen to the Dane.
    Give you good night. O, farewell, honest soldier:
    Who hath relieved you? Barnardo has my place.
    Give you good night. Holla! Barnardo! Say
    What, is Horatio there? A piece of him.​


    David Crystal has also written about how this was one of the reasons Shakespeare invented so many new words: if he didn't have a word that fitted the prevalent Iambic pentameter then he would just make one up.
     
  12. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    Yeah, you've totally lost me here.

    I don't know how you've managed to never read a fantasy novel with a relatable character in it. Or how you managed to read nothing but fantasy novels where the characters spoke nothing but Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe or whatever.

    See the problem with saying, "These phrases aren't acceptable in fantasy," is that fantasy is what you make it, so... there really aren't any guidelines.

    Your homework is to read some decent fantasy! I suggest...
    • "Guards! Guards!" or "Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett, for lovable, relatable characters and some good laughs.
    • "Taltos" by Steven Brust, for an example of high fantasy written in first person with a casual voice.
    • "The Way of Shadows" by Brent Weeks, if you're looking for something more epic and less humorous.

    You might notice me suggesting the latter two all over the forums when people talk about "fantasy cliches" so sorry if I'm a broken record, haha! (I need to find some new books to plug, heh.) Fantasy is my favorite genre and I don't like cliches, either -- they don't have to go hand-in-hand. Sometimes I think people are reading nothing but Tolkien and then thinking that the entire fantasy genre looks like that.
     
  13. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    Oh, and try Xanth by Piers Anthony. That's one of my favorite fantasy series.
     

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