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Mellie
June 2nd, 2006, 08:00 AM
I have a question for all the pros out there regarding writing style.

I've been reading Orson Scott Card's book "How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" as well as "Characters and Viewpoint". I recall him saying to avoid using hard to pronounce words as they distract the reader and make him/her withdraw from the story.

I've just attempted to read The Ill-Made Mute. I think the basic idea of the book was interesting. Many posters on here have reviewed and made comments on her writing style and it seems a lot of people had the same difficulty in getting through this work as I did.

So my question becomes, assuming that what Card states in his book (and by no means am I implying that his word is "law") is logical, I'm wondering how on earth this book was published. I think Card is correct in his statement that readers can be distracted and lose focus in the story because they need to spend more than a few moments trying to figure out how to pronounce a name or a word. (This puts me in mind of Eric Von Lustbader, who is another author I've tried to read. The particular book I picked up had ridiculously long character names with an inordinate usage of the letter g.)

So knowing that readers can or will lose focus in a book if the language is too difficult, why are books like The Ill-Made Mute published at all?

I'm not saying that the use of interesting or unusual character or place names is a bad thing, obviously the majority of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre's do use them. I don't quite understand why an author would not want to follow the principle that keeping it simple, or at least not horribly difficult, will keep the reader interested.

Any thoughts?

Incarnadine
June 2nd, 2006, 08:47 AM
Interesting question, I think if the author is trying to convey an alien or foreign atmosphere the use of hard to pronounce names is justified. It's also likely overlooked if the novel is good enough to overshadow such minor quirks.
Personally I never try to pronounce these types of names in my head, just kinda remember them by the first and last letter of the name. Which brings up another thing that I feel should be avoided in writing - never repeat the first letter in names of major characters if it can be avoided. A novel with the main characters named Robar, Roger, Rofer, Rosar, and Rodir would be excruciating to read.

Enw
June 2nd, 2006, 08:54 AM
Is Card referring to the use of proper names, or is he arguing that the language of the novel in general should be simple or straightforward?

Randy M.
June 2nd, 2006, 09:30 AM
I have a question for all the pros out there regarding writing style.
Disclaimer: I am not now nor have I ever been a pro at much of anything, and certainly not at fiction writing.

I've been reading Orson Scott Card's book "How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" as well as "Characters and Viewpoint". I recall him saying to avoid using hard to pronounce words as they distract the reader and make him/her withdraw from the story.
Words or names?

It occurs to me that if he said/meant names, no one should publish H. P. Lovecraft because no one will read him -- I mean, Cthulhu? Tsathoggua? What was HPL thinking?

If Card meant words, well, then no one should republish 19th century novels since writers from that time tended to use a wider vocabulary than most 20th century writers. There are exceptions, natch, like the 20th century humorist S. J. Perelman, who loved digging up obscure words and tossing them at his readers like open challenges; and there are/were a few fantasy authors with similar impulses, like Clark Ashton Smith, Avram Davidson and Gene Wolfe. These writers believe a smattering of antiquated and/or obscure words boost the kind of mood they're setting for the kinds of readers they are addressing.

I've just attempted to read The Ill-Made Mute. I think the basic idea of the book was interesting. Many posters on here have reviewed and made comments on her writing style and it seems a lot of people had the same difficulty in getting through this work as I did.

So my question becomes, assuming that what Card states in his book (and by no means am I implying that his word is "law") is logical, I'm wondering how on earth this book was published. I think Card is correct in his statement that readers can be distracted and lose focus in the story because they need to spend more than a few moments trying to figure out how to pronounce a name or a word. (This puts me in mind of Eric Von Lustbader, who is another author I've tried to read. The particular book I picked up had ridiculously long character names with an inordinate usage of the letter g.)

So knowing that readers can or will lose focus in a book if the language is too difficult, why are books like The Ill-Made Mute published at all?
How do you know this? Different readers have different levels of comfort.

I can't speak for The Ill-Made Mute, but look at the range of response to LOTR you see on these boards. Some find Tolkein's prose enchanting, others find it labored or stilted, others just think he's boring. The editor(s) may see qualities in Dart-Thornton's (think that's her correct name) book that you don't that made them feel it was well worth publishing.

I'm not saying that the use of interesting or unusual character or place names is a bad thing, obviously the majority of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre's do use them. I don't quite understand why an author would not want to follow the principle that keeping it simple, or at least not horribly difficult, will keep the reader interested.

Any thoughts?
Mainly that this may not be the book for you. That's not meant as a qualitative judgement of the book or of you as a reader, it's just that there are good and bad "fits" between books and readers.

Publishing is more a craft/art than a science. It takes judgement based on experience with the intended audience, and sometimes that judgement goes against the data collected from the audience. Not that a systematic approach is inherently bad, but there seem to be limits to what such data offers in the way of true information. If you rely too much on it, then maybe you don't publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorceror's Stone.

But then, no one foresaw the popularity of LOTR, either. It took a bootleg edition for U.S. publishers to realize that there was an audience in the '60s for a work that was considered dead wood from the '50s. Which just goes to show that publishers don't always get it right, either.


Randy M.

Mellie
June 2nd, 2006, 09:35 AM
Is Card referring to the use of proper names, or is he arguing that the language of the novel in general should be simple or straightforward?


The section of Card's book that I'm referring to is about language and how people from different nations will most likely speak different ones. As a subset to that he talks about new words for new meanings. One of the things he said is "Nothing is more tacky than to have a bunch of foreign-sounding words thrown into a story for no better reason than to have something that sounds foreign." (Orson Scott Card "How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" pg 54).

He goes on to talk about the ability of the human mouth to pronounce the language, and carries it further to character and place names. He says "You want that name to be an insant label for a character or place - but you must remember that it can't be a merely visual label. Even though most of your readers don't move their lips, you must take into account the fact that many (if not most) readers have a strong oral component to their reading. In our minds, we're reading aloud, and if we run into a word or a name that can't be pronounced, it stops us cold." (Orson Scott Card "How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" pg 56)

I've been stopped cold myself in various books. Some I was able to get through after a few tries at pronunciation (most of the time I just decide how I will pronounce it regardless of how the author intended just so I can continue with the story). Others have left me not wanting to continue the book at all.

KatG
June 2nd, 2006, 12:03 PM
Hey Mellie, I moved your thread to the Writing forum, where the topic is more appropriate -- and pro writers are more likely to see it and respond.

Card's idea is not logical or a rule -- it's a stylistic preference. It's what Card thinks is a good idea in his writing and so, in other's writings. And as a writer, you may find yourself agreeing with that for your own writing, since you agree with him in your reading.

But other writers do not have that preference, such as in "The Ill-Made Mute," and have different goals or ideas in what they are doing. And publishers don't have a problem with that. Card's books are chockful of useful information, but remember that it's advice to consider, not a gospel to which all writers adhere.

Mellie
June 2nd, 2006, 02:06 PM
But other writers do not have that preference, such as in "The Ill-Made Mute," and have different goals or ideas in what they are doing. And publishers don't have a problem with that. Card's books are chockful of useful information, but remember that it's advice to consider, not a gospel to which all writers adhere.


Thanks for moving this KatG. I think I'm having a brain cloud today. I suppose I was so focused on Card's ideas fitting with what made sense to me I wasn't really thinking about the world at large and how things might and often do work for others.

Certainly I've read my share of books that don't follow these ideas. I suppose it was reading The Ill-Made Mute on the cusp of finishing Card's book that made the one seem so against the other.

I often find myself unable to articulate what it is I'm thinking and I feel a bit daunted by the well thought-out posts on the forums. I will try though, to be a bit more aware of what I'm posting where so no one need clean up after me :)

Randy M.
June 3rd, 2006, 08:41 AM
Thanks for moving this KatG. I think I'm having a brain cloud today. I suppose I was so focused on Card's ideas fitting with what made sense to me I wasn't really thinking about the world at large and how things might and often do work for others.

Certainly I've read my share of books that don't follow these ideas. I suppose it was reading The Ill-Made Mute on the cusp of finishing Card's book that made the one seem so against the other.

I often find myself unable to articulate what it is I'm thinking and I feel a bit daunted by the well thought-out posts on the forums. I will try though, to be a bit more aware of what I'm posting where so no one need clean up after me :)
Just a further thought, more from a writing point of view, Mellie: You have to write what is effective for you. You are your own first audience, and if you're not pleased with the work chances are no one else will be either. If you feel uncomfortable with a simple vocabulary, it will show as surely as discomfort with trying to elevate vocabulary.

If you get too concerned with fitting any other writer's ideas of what is best to write, you won't develop your own voice, you'll develop their's, or something like it. The considerations you need to make include, does the word you use fit the tone of the piece you're writing? Does it carry the meaning you wish to express, and does it convey the tone you wish to convey? If it's obscure, or difficult to pronounce, it may still be the best word for what you're writing and, honestly, you're not always helping the reader by by attaching a leash to her/him and leading them.

Still, one of the other considerations is always, who are you addressing? If you're writing YA, you do have to temper vocabulary without talking down to the audience. If you're looking to appeal to the audience that reads, say, Dan Brown, you may have to keep the action moving and sentences short and swift. If you're looking to appeal to the Gene Wolfe fandom, you have greater latitude in vocabulary and pacing.

That said, you are still your own first audience, and a representative of a broader audience. What you are comfortable with writing may be a greater determining factor of who you appeal to than a purposeful attempt to appeal to some theoretical audience.

Randy M.
(I refer you back to my earlier disclaimer, and now open the floor for professional writers to agree, temper or Bronx cheer what I've said.)

MrBF1V3
June 5th, 2006, 12:22 AM
I've read one or two books which have character names which are long and impossible to pronounce, neither of which is near as annoying as reading a book with character names which are long and impossible to pronounce and difficult to distinguish from one another. I don't know if it's a formal rule, but it does help your story when the characters are not all the same person and they don't have variations of the same name. The purpose of story telling is communication, building a connection between the readers and your characters is kind of important.

I once wrote a short story with a character names which quickly got out of control. Both of the main characters had names which looked like I went overboard buying extra vowels. I don't think I spelled either name the same way twice in the first draft. It was a lot of extra work which I resented by the end of the story. (See: www.sffworld.com/community/story/369p0.html )

And yeah, be wary of advice from writers. It is a competitive business. (wise out) i.e. :rolleyes:

Later,
B5

Rocket Sheep
June 5th, 2006, 07:56 AM
I hate big words and long difficult names and skip over them in my head. I like to read Card. I don't like to read Dart-Thornton (I read her first book so I know) but in her defence, she's not putting it on, I met her and her vocabulary really is THAT big. I think she was raised in a library. (She's also really nice and helpful and has good ideas.)

Anyway, you can see where my stylistic preferences lie. Actually, I really like Michael Swanwick's short stories... so I'm a real tightness freak and one of the reasons I don't read epic fantasy is that it meanders along, generally speaking, but I think that is relaxing for many readers.