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Thursday, September 21, 2006


And some more...

Well, I've just e-mailed my delightful site manager, asking for some updates . . . so shortly this site will be expanded. Mostly more reviews added, plus the Lexicon updated, and an article about werewolves in history - which I'll point out when it comes on line.

Meantime, here are some more phrases that the Lexicon will shortly be containing:

Unnecessary Surgery
Killing off a character that the reader has gotten fond of, in such a way that the dramatic and structural payoffs aren't satisfying enough to assuage the grief of seeing that nice person, who everyone had been expecting to stick around, meet with a sudden fate.

Combine Harvester Writing
'This landscape inspires such thoughts and feelings in me . . .' Dwelling on the writer, narrator or character as a figure of massive sensibility, without letting the reader share enough of their fun. Typically, the culprit is in a setting that inspires tremendous emotions in them - but we don't get to hear about the setting in a way that's clear enough to let us have our own reaction to it, and neither do we necessarily hear an overly moving description of what the feelings and thoughts are. Like praising a combine harvester without mentioning fields or bread: the culprit is a response processor, and we're supposed to admire them for being responsive more than we're supposed to take an interest in what they're responding to. An oblique form of boasting.

What I Wrote On My Holidays
Setting a novel in a nice landscape, typically involving lushly described sunlight, colours, scents and food, and using the landscape to convey an element of exoticism and heightened emotional import to whatever is happening to the hero. Can be very effective if well handled, but if not, can feel like a mechanical attempt to make the book more interesting, especially if the view of the landscape is basically that of a privileged tourist, giving rise to the suspicion that the author had a great two-week holiday there last year and needed another plot idea. If the author doesn't have a good understanding of the local culture and a willingness to treat local characters with respect, it looks unintentionally ignorant, and more generally, like the writer is an outsider in a world that they're supposed to have a godlike understanding of.

Tourette's Foreignitis
A character who, being French and all (or sometimes German, Italian or similar), occasionally can't help slipping a phrase from his native language into a sentence. Oddly enough, it's usually 'Oui' or 'cherie', ie a phrase that the reader is almost certain to understand - and that the character himself unquestionably knows the English for. In other words, making the character seem exotically foreign without thinking about how someone speaking a second language would actually talk. Implausible when the character is speaking English; downright bizarre when he's supposed to be speaking French and the multi-lingual narrator puts into English everything he's said except a few, easily-translatable words.

Apostrophe Infestation
Trying to convey a character's accent by spelling out words exactly as he pronounces them, but putting in apostrophes for every letter he doesn't pronounce until the page is crawling with them. 'E neva pr'nounces anyfin' propa, so the author spells it out accordingly. This makes it harder for readers to sympathise with him - it's very difficult to get into what someone is saying if it takes you three times longer than usual to actually make it out - and also risks implying that the author thinks there's something abnormal about having a Cockney, Spanish or Texan accent that stops it from being written down without constant adjustments. The most effective way to convey an accent is through use of speech rhythms and choice of words, but that's more difficult; an apostrophe infestation suggests the author didn't feel they could tackle it, and possibly was distracted by the character's class or nationality from other considerations about writing them.


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