Thursday, August 4, 2016
Stand Your Ground
Update/book report: I’ve started reading Crown of Midnight, the sequel to Throne of Glass, which I pretty much savaged last week. I’m pleased to say the reports on Goodreads were accurate. Most of the problems I bitched about regarding the first book have indeed been corrected in the second. Celaena’s not nearly half as annoying, and more attention is paid to what she does as opposed to what she wears. And she finally gets to assassinate people. She’s begun to live up to the hype that made up most of the first book. In fact, she’s in danger of becoming a Mary Sue, especially since—but that would be telling. Let me read through this book and maybe the next before I make that accusation.
Anyway, it’s now clearly stated that she’s 18 years old. So she’s a legal adult by modern readers’ standards, which is how she’ll be judged. Remember, even though these stories are set in fantasy kingdoms, foreign lands, future eras or galaxies far, far away, they still have to appeal to readers in the here-and-now. And get the okay from their parents, in the case of YA books. Therefore, no on-stage killing until the protag turns 18. She’s still drinking, though, even though she isn’t 21. Guess that part’s okay, since this kingdom hasn’t invented cars yet. Wonder if she could get arrested for RHWI (riding a horse while intoxicated)?
On a side note, if you want to see what tailoring futuristic science fiction or high fantasy to present-day sensibilities can lead to, tune in to an episode of the original Star Trek (set in the 23rd century but created in the 1960s) and have a giggle at the female crew members—officers, even—running around in miniskirts and go-go boots. Austin Powers would have felt right at home on the bridge of the Enterprise. Especially because, while racial equality has apparently been achieved, sexism will continue to run rampant in the far future. They even came right out and said in one episode that women weren’t allowed to command starships. I’ll bet young Hillary Rodham blew a gasket over that and never watched the show again. (Young Bill Clinton, on the other hand, would have given Kirk a big thumb’s up and a “You go, dude!”)
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That isn’t what I want to talk about today, though. I’m in the process of going through edits on a story I had accepted by a publisher, and having to gear up for battle. Not over content. Over spelling.
Y’see, I try to write natural, realistic-sounding dialogue. My characters are a couple of motorcycle mechanics. Blue-collar, working-class heroes. Neither went to college. I’m sure the one just scraped through high school by the skin of his teeth. Which means they talk like just plain folks. Their sentences are peppered with ain’ts and gonnas, helluvas and son-of-a-bitches, and the occasional fuck. That’s not even counting the scene where they get drunk, which doesn’t do their diction any favors.
I extended this style, to a lesser extent, to the narrative, to give the story a distinctive flavor. The editor was fine with all this. Apparently she’s a writer herself. We like to play around with the language. We’ve got all these words at our disposal, yeah, we’re gonna have fun with ‘em.
The publisher, though, is another matter. She seems to be a stickler for proper spelling, which means my slang terms, contractions and fast-and-loose grammar will have to be “fixed.”
I’m okay with most of the changes in the narrative. That part’s not so important. But now she’s messing with the dialogue. Change that, and you change the characterization. You change who my people are. Blue-collar mechanics with a high school education do not, as a rule, talk like college professors. Especially with two to three beers in them.
I’ll change some of my words, but not all of them. Not when the changes threaten to turn my characters into different people, and my story into something I didn’t intend to write. That’s where I dig in my heels and fight back. Even if I have to withdraw it and try again elsewhere.
Which I did once, with an anthology story. The publisher rewrote it in a way that changed my protag’s character into what he thought it should be. To which I say, write your own story, buddy. Don’t write mine. The publisher backed off, and the story saw print with my protag sporting the personality I gave him. Score one for the writer.
I suspect I’ll win this one too. The editor’s on my side, and I’ve agreed to clean up most of the “misspellings” that seem to offend the publisher so much. But not all. The dialogue better stay the way these guys would say it, or I might have to pull up stakes and move on.
The irony is, my freelance job includes editing and proofreading. The book I’m reading now is rife with the same “mistakes” I made, plus a bunch I never thought of. That’s her style, her voice. It’s how she writes. They aren’t mistakes, either. She’s a damn fine writer and she knows exactly what she’s doing when she makes those choices. She’s also one of that publisher’s top-selling authors. If I “fixed” her alleged errors, I’d completely ruin the tone of her work, and be kicked off the job three seconds later.
The publisher I work for is a lot more lenient than the publisher I’m writing for. Though if they keep this up, I may not be writing for them much longer.
I’m hoping we can reach a compromise everybody’s happy with. If I have to, I’ll pull out the big guns and cite Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, widely considered to be the first true American novel. Wonder if Twain had to fight to get Huck’s colloquial speech patterns into print?
The irony there is, he probably prompted no squawks at all over his repeated use of a certain derogatory N-word, which has gotten the book banned all over the place in this more enlightened era. But hey, it was created in a different time. The folks who worked on the original Star Trek are probably nodding right now.