The Never-Ending Battle

Tori is making a last pass over the manuscripts and found more words that I can’t use in “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” One of them I should have known better. In fact I DID know better, just didn’t think about it. Can’t call Davy Leech’s eyes mesmerizing. First used in 1829, the word refers to the German hypnotist Franz Mesmer, 1734-1815. So that’s out. So is hypnotic, which existed as a word in the 17th century but only in the sense of “sleep-inducing,” which is sort of the opposite of what I mean.

And I can’t let Jack Farmer call himself “a real spellbinder” in 1718 if the word didn’t exist until 1808. So I figured I’d just switch it to raconteur, a great word – which unfortunately was first recorded in 1828.

And I can’t replace it with the obvious “yarn spinner,” because the first use of “spin a yarn” to mean “tell a story” wasn’t recorded until 1812. Yes, in a nautical setting, but almost a hundred years after my story.

Why do I care so much? After all, most readers won’t recognize I’ve used  a word that didn’t exist yet, probably 98 percent of the readers. (Well, mesmerize would probably ring a lot of bells, but other than that I could probably get away with them.) I suppose it’s because I’d know, and it would annoy me if no one else. Keeping the language period is important. You’re trying to tell a story in a real, believable, recognizable world, and language is one of your most important tools. If it causes one reader in a thousand to stop and say, “Wait, ‘okay’ didn’t exist until the 1820s, this guy is an idiot,” that’d be one too many. It’s like the very popular mystery I read last year that had a character shot down in his Spitfire over Berlin in 1940. The author should have known the Spitfire was a short range fighter that never flew over Berlin. If she didn’t, what else didn’t she know? There were a couple of other even more egregious things (Duke Ellington’s “In the Mood? Come on!) that I have never been tempted to pick up another book by that author.

I love “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” and can’t wait for readers to get hold of it. But I’m really looking forward to getting to work on my next project, which will be set in the present. That’ll be one problem off my back. I’ll be able to use any damn word I know!

3 thoughts on “The Never-Ending Battle

    1. Kerry, thanks for the thought. Yeah, I get what you’re saying and I don’t disagree. In this book I’m using the “third person omniscient” narrator, so I could get away with it. But I’m really trying to build the world, and have decided to try – to the best of my poor abilities – keep the story in that time frame. A hopeless cause, probably. But having gone this far with it, I’ve gotta try.

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