Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Out of Date

Robert Henri,
oil on canvas, 1906.

1. In my urban fantasy WIP, my Lillie is known officially to the public as a Talent. (She's also described as a Freak, but never mind that.) Discovered yesterday that author Lynne Connolly has used the term Talent(s) in a paranormal. Nothing like appearing derivative.

2. Managed a mere 300 words on said WIP yesterday.

3. It snowed last night.

4. Found these true lines in Selected Poetry by W.B. Yeats:

There is grey in your hair,
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;

5. My daughter will deploy again in August.

To counter those morose thoughts, a joke:

Yes....the graveside service had just barely finished, when there was massive clap of thunder, followed by a tremendous bolt of lightning, accompanied by even more thunder rumbling in the distance.The little old man looked at the pastor and calmly said, "Well, she's there."

Not the automatic interpretation, but I chortle over the image of a determined female blowing the hinges off the Pearly Gates and striding past an astonished St. Peter.

My alternate version is fully aware of the usual conclusion, but it laterally leads me to consider the advice: trust your reader, and how far a writer can.

The advice is often directed at writers who feel it necessary to describe every minute action that moves a character from a chair to a door, for example, and who don't trust the reader to "get it" by a simple assertion, and those who take "show" to excess.

I suppose the real answer to trusting the reader is: carefully.

Certainly, trust in the reader is an unreasonable expectation when applied to foreign words or obscure phrases -- though I don't think Kathy Reichs, in her forensic series featuring Temperance Brennan, really needs to explain that simple phrases like mon ami means my friend.

Her editor obviously leans to the LCD side. However, such translations are cleverly inserted, I will admit.

Dialogue often offers opportunities for seemless explanation. If one character uses a phrase such as mon ami, the next person might say: I'm not your friend.

A character might ruminate over nuances contained in an obscure term --thereby providing the reader with a definition, or might ask outright: "wotthehell does that mean?/ what do you mean by that?"

Bernard ( aka the Hunk) is posting almost daily a delightful, delicious, highly entertaining serial story involving a hunky mechanic and a lady from a lamp.

Naturally, he uses proper terms for car parts but doesn't derail the story to explain them to the mechanically challenged, because they are not relevant to an understanding of the plot and are present mainly to add versimilitude to the setting and character.

An excellent example of trusting the reader.


Vesper said...

I think you have to give the reader a few guiding-marks and then let him (or her) build their own images. It's hard though, when you have such a detailed painting in your head...
About foreign words and obscure phrases, I have to wonder if many of them are necessary or they are there just to satisfy the writer's vanity.

4. depressingly true...

Carla said...

Well, 'the talent' has been around for ever in the TV and film industry, hasn't it? Among other uses. Looks like you both re-applied it independently.

Bernita said...

As a show-offing, Vesper?
Dear me, I use some Gaelic terms in my WIP...
Sometimes, it's to assert the original source and to avoid the conventional.

I was tired of seeing psychic stuff described as a Gift, Carla.
I need to get out more.

Ric said...

1 - wouldn't be concerned about that - might be if Lillie were a Jedi - otherwise, few will notice and those that do will come because of the paranormal.
2 - a positive word count is always acceptable.
3 - will it never end?
4 - depressing
5 - even more depressing

Sun is shining - rumors of daffodils bursting through the snow - hope springs eternal.

spyscribbler said...

Janet Evanovich has taught me how to "trust the reader" in that sense, more than anyone else.

By the way, about the poem: I just colored my hair. The gray had become the majority. I felt unpretty, so I decided to start wearing make up.

Stupid. Now, when I put it on, I look at my face, and I can see all the wrinkles under my eyes!

Bernita said...

Ric, in some ways the days march slowly; in others, they speed.
BTW, I changed a secondary character's name spelling from "Rick" to "Ric." Otherwise, I don't think he resembles you.

Makes one feel older than dirt, Natasha.

December/Stacia said...

Bernita, you couldn't appear derivative if you tried. (Well, maybe if you tried: You could probably write a story about Mary Lotter at Frogsnout school of witchcraft, and that might look bad. But you'd have to work at it.)

Love the funeral scene!

As for trusting the's one of the hardest things for me to figure out, in part because I like having some things overexplained. The ends of mysteries, for example. It's why I love those slow drawing-room denouments so much. Twenty pages or so of painstaking explanation for who, why, and howdunit is right up my alley. I especially like it in movies, like Agatha Christie adaptations, where we watch every step and all the steps that leas up to it. Ah. It's relaxing. :-)

But the other stuff, words and things? That's what Google and dictionaries were invented for. Don't point out to me that you don't know what a catafalque is; go find out. See? You've learned something now.

December/Stacia said...

Oh, and I bought myself some anti-aging moisturizer the other day. "For women over 30." I'm 4 1/2 years late, and I hope I can catch up.

Bernita said...

December, I have this fear of being so and not knowing it.
It's neat how some jokes are excellent writing samples.
Am finding myself drawn to those anti-aging commercials.

SzélsőFa said...

This 'I'm not your friend' is a great eample of how to explain a foreign term indirectly. A very useful advice, Thank you!

Re:weather: It also snows here, upon tulips and violets and baby chickens....

Ric said...


Deeply honored, impossibly vain.

***Blushes again***

BernardL said...

God bless your daughter.

bunnygirl said...

#4: Both blessing and curse.

As an introvert, I don't like to be pestered or even looked at on some days. But as an ordinary female on the other side of 40, I miss being able to command that kind of attention with no effort at all.

I can still do it, but it takes a little more effort with my appearance and I can see the writing on the wall. I just keep telling myself that everyone has their day (those young'uns are getting old, too) and that there's only one alternative to growing old. Given my options, I'll take getting older, thanks.

#5: Sucks. I'll keep my fingers crossed that something changes between now and then, although I'm not optimistic.

Regarding trusting the reader, you gave a fine example of trusting the reader to figure out a foreign phrase. I've used similar methods myself.

My biggest beef is with writers who don't trust me to figure out what a character is feeling. I don't want to read that Mary is shocked. I want to see her grow pale and grab onto a door frame for support. I want to hear her stumble over her words as she demands an explanation. Yet it seems a lot of fiction writers think I need to be TOLD, "Mary was shocked. She wasn't expecting this."

Lazy writing, IMO.

Demon Hunter said...

Showing versus telling is killing me. Just when I think I've got it, I find something else wrong. **Sigh**

Bernita said...

Late storms are so disappointing, Szelsofa!
We haven't reached the pussy willow stage yet.

Ric, he's the one with an expression "like a demented chipmunk," so you might not feel so honoured after all.

Just remember I didn't model the character after you,( even though he's a decent sort) it's just such a nice name.

Thank you, Bernard.

Robyn said...

I just realized the other day that I wrote a family into one story that has adopted multi-cultural kids. Even though it was written three years ago, everyone's going to think I got the idea from Angelina and Brad.

I think 'talent' has entered the fantasy lexicon; you're pretty safe on that front. And as December said, you couldn't be derivative if you tried.

Ric said...

creating word pictures....

demented chipmunk

I'm sure there have been days....

still honored and laughing loudly...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bunny.
Ah well, there are prejudices and problems attached to each stage and condition.

Dear Demon, just t'other day I was reminded to use "I saw/ watched/ looked" very carefully.

Bernita said...

Lowering, isn't it? Makes me lay my ears back and crouch.
Thank you, Robyn.

Ric, I could add that I'm fond of chipmunks.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the more difficult things going on in your life, Bernita.

writtenwyrdd said...

I know how tough it is to have your 'special' words and phrases found in print, but given the explosion of paranormal stuff out there, I generally give writers some credit for having thought of the terms that are used elsewhere on their own! I would leave it as is unless your editor suggests a change in terminology. You know you thought of the Talents on your own.

Sorry your daughter is deploying again. Stupid, stupid war. I'm assuming Afghanistan?

And we are getting more snow today, too. So far, 2". Happy Spring, right?

As far as trusting one's readers, I think that is so true. It's annoying to be told the obvious, but it's also annoying to be left wondering what the hell is going on. What really annoys me is when the backstory or details stall the story. I'm entirely guilty of doing the too-much-detail bit a lot; but that's what edits are for. Besides, the longer you write, the better you get at leaving out the excessive bits!

Bernita said...

Kind of you, Jason, but bah - I didn't mean for the post to be a total whine. (Just a little one.)

writtenwyrdd said...

Sheesh, bernita, you whine so mildly compared to most of us bloggers!

Bernita said...

My take on Talent is likely very different, Written.
The problem arises when pitching the thing, wondering if an agent/editor's eyes will light on a word or phrase and yell "NEXT!"

Afghanistan.She's looking forward to it.

And I'm guilty of leaving out too much, methinks.

Bernita said...

Winter has gone on all to long, Written.

Lisa said...

The Yeats -- yes, that transition from turning heads to becoming invisible seems to happen without warning.

As a reader, I find myself annoyed and pulled from the story when a writer explains. I'd rather suss out a meaning from context than feel that the author is patronizing me.

ChristineEldin said...

1. Keep the word Talent. You've made it unique to your work. It's not derivative.

2. 300 must be enough in some circles, else they wouldn't have made a movie with that title.

3. Wish I were there. It's 35 Celcius here. I'm too afraid to translate to the proper Farhenheit.

4. We've had this discussion before. Depends on the grey, I would assume.

5. Now that is hard. Nothing really to say beyond that.

*off to Bernard's site*

Okay, this is the funniest word ver I've ever had: zcockhg
Is my mind dirty, because I translate as "zee cock hog"

Bernita said...

Lisa, I feel the same, though I think we're the minority.

Thank you, Chris.
That registers about 95F.

raine said...

{{{Hugs}}} on the rough times, Bernita. Hamg on!

Wouldn't worry about the use of "Talent". Obviously not derivative of another's work. I've heard it used in old 'B' movies to refer to strippers, working girls--anyone with a distinguishable ability.

And I'm all for giving readers their props. If you're telling me someone took a shower and then retired to their bedroom, I don't need a blow-by-blow to assure me they stepped out of the tub, used a towel, turned the water off, put their hand on the knob, turned the knob, stepped into the hallway, etc. (unless you're building suspense, because there's an alien creature waiting for them just beyond the door, and then I love it, lol).

Oh, btw--go Hunk! ;)

writtenwyrdd said...

Yes to what Lisa said. If we like spec fic, we like to be allowed to figure out what's going on. But the writer had to provide enough for us to figure it out. It's a specific skill, and how much is too much/too little is the question we all have to struggle with. Just call me Goldilocks!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Raine.
Just a bane-counting moment.
I have become addicted to Bernard's serial.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Sometimes when interspersed with dialogue, these detailed actions can add a lot--especially if you've got a character who is "just so."

StarvingWriteNow said...

Okay, perhaps the young men aren't catching their breath at the sight of you any more... but I'll bet your words would leave them breathless every time. You have such a gift.

Bernita said...

Not just any character, SS. Some boring actions are just that, boring.

What a sweet thing to say, WriteNow. Thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

I fear that I sometimes err on the side of showing too much, or of not trusting the reader enough. But at least in certain parts I want the reader to read a sentence exactly as I intend, down to the sounds. At least I don't usually struggle with moving the character around and showing too much detail there.

Bernita said...

I suppose it depends partly on the type of scene, Charles. Some action scenes need a little loving detail, not "they fought with swords."

Gabriele C. said...

I have that problem with Roman terminology. I'm still not sure whether to replace most military words with - only vaguely fitting - modern ones, or stick to the Roman terms and try to either sneak an explanation in via context or simply give a glossary. The last would be the easiest way, but I'm not sure readers would like it.

I do, as reader, but that's another matter. ;)

Bernita said...

Context is often enough, but I think most readers appreciate glossaries as well in histfic, Gabriele.

Steve Malley said...

I think referring to psychics as Talents may actually go back to Andre Norton.

You're on a hot streak with all these great posts! I get so much out of them!

Anonymous said...

I'll have to make the effort to pull out the Norton books, but I believe Esper was the term for psychic abilities in the sf books. Not sure about the witches, but I think I recall the terms Power and Magic. She dealt in generalities more than specifics. What I've wondered for years is whether she invented the term "blaster" or did someone else?

BTW, my fav of hers is Moon of Three Rings-- the first sf bookI ever read or bought. Hooked forever. Besides, how can you not like Eet, the snarky alien/cat hybrid?


Anonymous said...

Ye gods I used the wrong title! That would be The Zero Stone. Moon of Three Rings is also great, though.

writtenwyrdd, who is doing too many things at one time with brain insufficiently attached...

Bernita said...

Hmmm, don't remember her using it, Steve,must check my Witch Worlds.
Thank you.

I have that one, Written, but I liked the kottis in The Mark of the Cat more.

Ashley Ladd said...

Writing is like walking a tight rope. We can't go too deep into showing or slide too far into telling.

Ello said...

Ah Bernita, sorry to hear about your daughter going back. My prayers that she returns home safely.

And I love your use of Talent. And perfectly ok, I believe, it isn't like a made up word like Muggle that you have to worry about. I love Lillie. Can't wait to read more, and any progress you have made is god progress!

Bernita said...

Always a balancing act, Ashley.

Ello, thank you.
You are always so encouraging.

James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

oh, sorry to hear that your daughter is being deployed. I pray she returns to you safely.

Bernita said...

Thank you, James.
It's what she joined for so it comes with the territory.

Billy said...

A pity more people don't read Yeats. Nice lines.

I don't know that I trust readers who are now coming of age. Their experience with novels comes from Cliffs Notes. Call me a pessemist.

Bernita said...

Neither can writers trust readers who are not familiar with the latest pop culture trends, Billy.
A lot goes over my gray head.

The Anti-Wife said...

I AM the anti-wrinkle cream commercial - the before part.

Bernita said...

Hee, AW.
I feel that way sometimes.