How do you adjust language for different genres?

CTRandall

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The Big Peat's thread on hybrid cultures ventured into the topic of language and it got me thinking....

As I work on my current fantasy novel, I find myself in the strange position of avoiding words with obvious Greek or Latin origins. It is clearly impossible to avoid all such words but the story features several highly educated scholars whose vocabulary needs to reflect their station. And yet, to me, words with Greek and Latin roots that fit so well with academic styles sound strange in a fantasy setting with no historical Greece or Rome.

I have allowed a couple of exceptions, which I use for specific purposes in the story. I'm also certain that readers who are attentive to language will find loads of examples that, for one reason or another, didn't worry me as I was writing. And to wallow further in my own hypocrisy (note my choice of word there :)), I happily scattered a few fairly modern terms throughout the book.

I assume that many of you who write fantasy or historical fiction try to avoid obviously modern terminology. But are there other ways in which you alter your use of language? And how about for all of you sci-fi writers, what issues have you encountered with language, vocabulary and style?
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
Basically my long suffering copy editor (@TheDustyZebra ) and I have a conversation that goes like this:

Dusty: Do you want this one to sound Northern Irish?

Me: yes or no (NI Space Opera is a stretch...)

Then it all works out and my language comes magically together. Cos Dusty is a genius.

Which means I’m useless here - except to say that our underlying language and dialect underlines what we write and sometimes it takes someone else to help us identify the quirks.
 
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The Big Peat

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Ah jaysis.

See, I love the idea of getting this deep, this technical with language. In my current WIP, I try to align certain regional dialects with certain make-believe regions; try to keep certain social classes' speech more simple; try to keep to particular strands of English etymology associated with certain cultures...

Or tried.

Because its just a pain. And it didn't make things better doing it to that level. Some of it remains but its no longer a big thing.

And as for avoiding modern terminology... I try to avoid things that'll jolt or age poorly but other than that, I don't care. Maybe I would if I was trying to accurately depict historical periods I'd feel different but I'm not. I'm telling stories about places real only to my mind and maybe yours, and the best way to do that imo is with the clearest English, and if that involves a few modern terms then no worries.
 

The Big Peat

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Reading Peat’s post - does worrying about these things get in the way of natural storytelling?
It can do. Spend too much time figuring out the details instead of writing, spend too much time worrying about one word rather than the next five...

... but I don't think it has to. I suspect the logical thing to do for most people is to just write the thing, keeping to the word choice as best you can but not getting too bothered if you don't, and edit to a high finish later once you've told the story.
 

EJDeBrun

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I'm pretty careful about my language choices in this way. For example, on a world that doesn't have any birds or flying vehicles, I avoid all references to flight. Like, bullets can't fly and nothing soars. There's no land either, so I can't use words like land OR shore. That's the same in metaphors, since the characters would never think that way.

This pushes me to actually come up with some creative alternatives and that makes for a more interesting read, at least for me. And I use completely different vocabulary and grammar depending on the setting: far future Earth is more casual, historical fantasy is more formal (unless purposely not) etc etc.

So yeah, I'll play with grammar a lot to demonstrate differences. Thing like using contracted words or not. How many prepositions or certain phrases. What kind of slang or colloquies etc to help illustrate as much as I can through the language. Trouble wise, it can lead to a repetition of certain terms unless I'm careful, so it's not something I would recommend doing a ton of.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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Sometimes when I know my characters really well, they write their own dialogue. It just comes out naturally the first time, exactly the way they would say it, given their background, education, social class, etc. I adore such characters.

Others can require a lot of editing on my part. But if the editing comes at the end when I know them and their world best, sometimes they'll take over the task for me. Sometimes. Other times it can take a lot of writing and rewriting to get it right. But such are the joys of editing.

So, I pretty much agree with The Big Peat. You can save a lot of that for the final draft/polishing; that way it need not interfere with the natural flow of the storytelling. But the reason I said "a lot of that" instead of "all," is because I agree with EJDeBrun, because sometimes using the wrong sort of language for a character's dialogue can lead to them expressing a thought they would never, in fact, have. Sometimes, that's OK. You can just fix it later. But what if there are consequences for them speaking that thought (or even just having it, because it may direct their actions)‚ consequences that spread out through the rest of the story? Not so easy to fix that sort of thing later.
 

Brian G Turner

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a fantasy setting with no historical Greece or Rome.
The way I account for this is to have a couple of key ancient civilizations which preceded the current one, and assign Greek/Roman analogues to them - though in a very customized way.

I assume that many of you who write fantasy or historical fiction try to avoid obviously modern terminology. But are there other ways in which you alter your use of language? And how about for all of you sci-fi writers, what issues have you encountered with language, vocabulary and style?
I mentioned in this thread about writing in a neutral manner: Dialogue 'too modern'

TJ also mentioned the Online Etymology Dictionary, which is a great way to check if your words are too modern: Online Etymology Dictionary
 

picklematrix

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A writer could go about it by putting themselves in the head of a potential reader and calibrate their vocabulary accordingly.

For example: an adult fantasy reader might be on board with some purple prose, but a young adult reader, not so much.

Also, I've noticed that books that are written in Deep 3rd person POV often use a similar language style to that of the main character, as if it were 1st person almost but with different pronouns.

Genre will dictate the type of language that might fit to a large degree because different genres have their own types if protagonist and POV characters, as well as target audience.
 

sknox

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>an adult fantasy reader might be on board with some purple prose, but a young adult reader, not so much.
But I want *both* to read my book. I've never found trying to think about my audience to be especially helpful. What if my reader is adult female? Middle school male? Elderly tribal chief? Busy teacher trying to squeeze in a read on the commute?

I know it's not realistic, but to me there's one genre--story--and one reader: whoever reads the story.
 

tinkerdan

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Though I do feel that some fiction benefits from adherence to language constrictions such as period fiction, when approaching the difference between adult fiction and young adult fiction we should be weary of talking down to a group of readers who might end up offended by someone perceiving a great difference it the audience and therefore adjusting the narrative voice.
 

Cory Swanson

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I seem to have a good knack for getting a certain voice in my head. Even so, I slip up sometimes. It helps to have others read it or to get some distance.

One thing that was a struggle was writing in a modern youth voice. I don't mean a YA voice, but the voice of a young person. It encapsulates so many of the common "no-no's" of writing. Excessive adverbs, like totally, really a lot. Lots of filler words. Polishing that one up was a doozy.
 

Plucky Novice

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I've tried not to over analyse language provenance but I am writing YA which perhaps is more forgiving.

One of the language issues I have wrestled with is due to the lack of religion and deities in my fantasy world.

I'm trying to write a clean book and lots of our go to statements for low level profanity revolve around religion. Once I've eliminated these, I've ended up battling with exclamations of yesteryear, e.g. blimey. Not what I want in my YA novel.

This is still not solved to my satisfaction so welcome any ideas.
 

HareBrain

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I'm trying to write a clean book and lots of our go to statements for low level profanity revolve around religion. Once I've eliminated these, I've ended up battling with exclamations of yesteryear, e.g. blimey.
Even blimey was religious in origin (God blind me, hence "cor blimey").

Once you get rid of religion, you're left with the sexual. If you want to avoid that too, then you might have to go with a particularly hated out-group (or person, politician etc) or some other kind of "otherness".
 

Plucky Novice

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Thanks @HareBrain, I imagine there are a few words of less obvious religious origin that have snuck in.

I may think about creating a new vernacular although I'm not a big fan of that in books either.

Tricky...
 

The Big Peat

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There's always excrement for low level profanity.

Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one who falls into these sorts of traps. While editing, I wrote a very splendid sentence in which a character stared up to the heavens, imploring them to witness something.

Then I remembered that they were all members of a chthonic religion and that this would have made no sense to them.

The resulting sentence was far less interesting I have to say.
 

ctg

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But are there other ways in which you alter your use of language? And how about for all of you sci-fi writers, what issues have you encountered with language, vocabulary and style?
There is nothing wrong with mixing in other languages. Actually it's recommended to a point, where you give an example and not the whole nine yards in foreign language. For example, if you'll have a spanish speaking person, add certain words to denote their language heritage as if they would be speaking. The rest can be as pure English as you can, and want to put in their mouths.

Here are two examples from my latest wip.

“What is this?” I asked hesitantly. “W-what are you doing?”

The demon smiled as he took off his hat and removed his gloves, before he approached me. I felt a bit scared seeing Ghost’s pale skin and mystical tattoos seemingly covered every square inch of his exposed flesh.

“There is nothing to be afraid of, M.”

He raised his right hand to touch my scalp while he mumbled something in Aramaic.

<< Cannot translate. >> Suit flashed hastily at me. << The Administrator needs to install an upgrade package for the rare historic languages. >>
And another one involving a Mexican counter-intelligence specialist.

Sancho looked at Ghost curiously, as I climbed into the front seat.

“Forgive me Senor Mayor,” he said. “I don’t think he knows.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “He doesn’t simply doesn’t care that I haven’t earned the title.”

“That’s right mate.” Ghost squeezed my shoulder from the backseat. “You’ve shown aptitude to earn the title and besides, we need our own spymaster. So who better to earn the title than you?”

“Drive Sancho.” I waved my hand. “And ignore what he’s saying.”

“Si Senor Mayor.” Sancho laughed.
 
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