1. Patrick94
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    Patrick94 Active Member

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    Footnotes

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Patrick94, May 20, 2011.

    I only came across them in one book/series (The Bartimaeus Trilogy). They're used well and are quite funny. Do many writers use them?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for fiction, next to none do...

    for non-fiction many writers use them...
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Many? Obviously not.

    Frederick Pohl didn't use footnotes, but a similar mechanism in his novel Gateway. Some pages were the story itself, but interspersed throughout were panels that were memoranda, want ads, short ads, etc - all fictrional and related to teh story, but out of the main flow. You could skip them completely and not really lose anything.

    I found it a distracting gimmick, and had the same reaction to The Amulet of Samarkand.
     
  4. Patrick94
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    Patrick94 Active Member

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    I like them, it adds to the humour of Bartimaeus. But would it be a good idea to use them in my fiction? I'd only use them for humourous stories, they wouldn't really work with anything else.

    The one thing they did do was allow the author to express Bartimaeus' humour at his own pace, without slowing the story down
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Asked and answered.
     
  6. Ophiucha
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    Ophiucha Member

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    I see them often enough. Best example would have to have been Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, where many (fictional) texts are referenced. The entirety of Pale Fire (by Vladimir Nabokov) is, in essence, footnotes. At least 400 pages of the text (out of, what?, 450 pages?) are notes. A much less stunning but probably more popular example would be House of Leaves, where a good half of the book is footnotes. Or mirrored, or sideways, or written in musical notes. On the lighter end of the scale, Terry Pratchett uses them, David Foster Wallace uses them, An Abundance of Katherines has them, Neal Stephenson uses them, World War Z has them, Jack Vance uses them, I seem to recall both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert using them. It's becoming pretty commonplace.
     
  7. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    I don't think it matters if many writers use them. You yourself should determine whether or not footnotes would benefit your story. I understand that the Bartimaeus Trilogy used them for the sake of humour, but that's probably it's sole purpose and that's humour. Some books do use footnotes, but usually for the sake of info-dumping.

    Personally, I hate footnotes, espeically in fiction books. However, if it's executed appropriately and it has relevance, I can tolerate them. Then again, I am heavily bias against footnotes. But if you feel you can do it, then by all means.
     
  8. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I'm personally thinking of using footnotes in one of my stories. Since my story takes place in a fantasy world (well, it doesn't have magic at all and isn't really your classic medieval fantasy world, but we'll just call it fantasy for argument's sake), there is often a lot of information - history, geography, culture, politics, food, slang, customs - that can't be explained in a sentence or two. Thus, I thought that instead of having an infodump, I'll put in a footnote here and there; since the story is from a first person POV, the footnotes will in fact be parenthetical statements by the narrator, who makes snide, satirical, and hopefully amusing comments about various aspects of her world, so that the reader doesn't just get to know a new fact about the world - they also learn about the narrator's attitude towards that aspect, as well as how other people may view it too, in a way that can't really happen if you just do a simple infodump.

    However, I do think it can get gimmicky and annoying at times, which is why I have been trying to limit the footnotes and making sure they're only there when necessary and/or when they can help further reveal my narrator's opinion or attitude and so forth.
     
  9. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I don't like the use of footnotes in fiction. If you can't fit the explanation of a detail somehow into the story, then it isn't relevant and will only distract the reader.

    Hickman and Weis did it multiple times in their Deathgate Cycle series. I found it annoying because they would go out of their way to explain some miniscule item that had nothing to do with the story and leave important questions unanswered.

    I mean, if an author wants to write a source book full of lore for his novel that is fine with me. Just don't try to turn the novel into a source book.
     
  10. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Who knows?

    Being that you like them, try using them - if they don't work, you can remove them without altering the text.

    Try it and see what happens.
     
  11. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've seen them used a few times, mostly for little tidbits of information. I think I read a David Gemmell novel that had some, and more recently I read an edited copy of Pride and Prejudice that had footnotes every now and again to explain what something was, like when they use the word morning, there was a footnote to explain that morning, in the early 1800s, was considered to be between 10am and 4pm, et cetera.

    Footnotes, as far as I'm concerned, should be informative and only used as necessary (or in the humour case, I guess that works too).
     
  12. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Footnotes interrupt the normal reading. However, if your character uses a term that is normal for her/him, but may not be so known to the average reader, what to do? The Fed* may be known to American readers, but would the term be familiar to the average European reader?

    (*The Federal Reserve Bank)
     
  13. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm Australian and know what that is. I watch movies that are set in America and written by Americans. It's not hard.
    I also disagree that they interrupt; at least, they don't interrupt it relatively as much as a dictionary does. As I mentioned, I recently read an edited copy of Pride and Prejudice and it had footnotes. They were helpful and I much preferred them than if I would have had to turn on my laptop and look up "hackney" or "chaise and four" or any of the other terms that were part of period language.
     
  14. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    It was just an example, and maybe not the best one....

    If you have to look up a word in a dictionary that is more general knowledge than some abbreviation. Looking up is part of the fun, and usually educational. The difference is that the reader can decide whether to look it up or not, while a footnote COMPELS the reader to interrupt, because it may be vital information he cannot afford to miss....
     
  15. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    The first time the author uses the word he should explain what it means, or, if the word is used regularly throughout the story, repeated use should reveal its meaning.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm against explaining. Make it clear from the context instead.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    amen to that!
     
  18. IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer
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    Where I've seen footnotes used well in fiction, they aren't just being used to convey extra bits of information -- they are actually using the structure of the book to help pull you into the world the book is creating.

    Two examples of this have already been mentioned briefly in this thread

    Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norell (which I've only just started reading) is written in a very 19th century style, which helps to pull the reader into the time and place of the book. I think that the giving information in footnotes contributes to this time-and-place immersion, the feeling like your reading something from the era in which the story takes place -- and pulls the magical elements of the story a half-step closer to the reader by doing so.

    A very different example is House of Leaves. Which, well, is hard to describe. My take is that one of the major themes of the book is that it's hard to separate truth from fiction even in the context of your own past and life. The book has at least TWO unreliable narrators layered on top of each other, one trying to make sense of the writings left behind by the other. The layers of footnotes contribute to this confusion. Most things I've read that try to do this kind of post-modern-y thing are horrible, but House of Leaves, in my opinion, actually manages to make something that should just be a big ugly mess brilliant, instead.

    But there's a cost to using footnotes, whether using them "well" or "poorly". They jar the reader out of the story, they interrupt the flow. For footnotes to work, they need to carry their weight. The reason why examples of fiction that use footnotes WELL are so notable is because it's something that (I think is) much, much easier to get wrong.

    So, as to whether to use them in your own fiction? My answer would be: try it. See if they are carrying their weight. Then either keep them or edit them out, accordingly :)
     
  19. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Terry Pratchett regularly interrupts the flow of narration to make a detour explaining some aspect of his fictional world. It's much like a footnote integrated into the main text. I think he only gets away with it because they're so damn funny and original, though.

    Isaac Asimov came up with the idea of starting each chapter with an excerpt from a fictional encyclopedia.

    I remember that. He even had excerpts from a fictional computer program, written in a fictional programming language. Like most footnotes, I didn't think they contributed much, and slowed down the reading process.
     

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