Forum: Fanfic: customs and conventions

Discussing: Writing conventions within fandom

Writing conventions within fandom

This may not even be the forum in which to posit this question, but I didn't think that English grammar was really appropriate either. Lyllyn encouraged me to "chill out" as it were as I was fretting mightily about American vs. British English spellings, and not only has that been discussed elsewhere, but she also indicated that HASA does not as an institution promote one over the other. My current quandry is this: is there a fandom-wide acceptance or decline policy on "our world" words creeping into our fanfiction? Since that is a very oblique question, let me put out a few terms that have made me want to tear my hair out because I want to use them, but I feel like I'm cheating:

naivete- how can one be naive in Middle-earth if there is no French language?
siren call- there is no Greece, no Sirens.
connect-the-dots- while there is parchment, probably most children in middle-earth wouldn't have books like that.

A friend of mine wrote a delightful story in which there was a Phyrric victory- again, hard to have if there is no Greece. But, Tolkien describes Gandalf's fireworks as having the sound of a freight train (if memory serves) so even The Professor left in some more modern references to our world in his story, so can I cut myself some slack?

Your thoughts are welcome.

~Thevina

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

This comes up in all sorts of places, not just fanfic. I work with many historical recreation groups. At one time or another, you have to distinguish between "accuracy" and "reality".

Accuracy: Many people had bad teeth in the Olden Days.
Reality: I am not yanking out my fillings.

A similar acceptence of Reality vs Accuracy must come into play here.
Technically, I suppose, nothing is accurate, as Middle Earth is a fictional place.

But excising the use of foreign phrases that have been absorbed into the English tongue is akin to yanking out the fillings: it probably can be done, but it isn't worth the price.

After all, a substantial percentage of English comes directly from French: beef, chair, etc. To attempt to eliminate all French from the vocabulary is, well, naive.


Khazar

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

But excising the use of foreign phrases that have been absorbed into the English tongue is akin to yanking out the fillings: it probably can be done, but it isn't worth the price.

Your point is well taken. Yippee! I can have my naive characters and "connect the dots" and stop losing sleep over it. The Greek stuff I'll keep, and sleep fitfully, but I'm sure that I'll get over that soon enough.


~Thevina

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

Your point is well taken. Yippee! I can have my naive characters and "connect the dots" and stop losing sleep over it.

As well you should! Khazar's analogy is rather apt IMO. BTW if you wanted to get really picky about things, the original language in England wasn't English/Anglo-Saxon anyway, it was Celtic! And even they had borrowed words from Latin during the Roman occupation.

Also, if you removed everything "non-English", you'd loose words like army, beef, air, chair, dinner--imagine the dismay of the Hobbits!--jolly, color (or colour for the Brits ) ...

I think you get the idea. And those are just the words that have their origins in French!

The Greek stuff I'll keep, and sleep fitfully, but I'm sure that I'll get over that soon enough.

As another offender in this category, let me assure you, I have lost very little sleep over this. If the word(s) carries the meaning you want, and is not easily replaced by another, use it! No one could give me a better word, or even an equivalent, for Pyrrhic, so I stuck with it because it carried the impact I needed for that line. IMO that should be your final determinant.

~Nessime


 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

You know, of all of those connect-the-dots is the only one I'd have trouble with - that would jar for me, I mean.
IDIC

Avon

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

You know, of all of those connect-the-dots is the only one I'd have trouble with - that would jar for me, I mean.

What, no drawing pictures in the sand?

You may have a point on this one though. Perhaps "putting all the pieces together" would be a better phrase. Cut out (aka jigsaw) puzzles are quite old, and I've no doubt the dwarves came up with some fantastic ones. They were rather famous for their toy making.

Would that fit the context of your story, Thev?

~Nessime

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I think for me, it depends on whether the 'foreign' word is spoken or simply in the narrative. I'm more careful with who says what than with what the narrator says. So my narrator says that Boromir had thought to present Faramir with a fait accompli, but Boromir himself would not actually say that (I think...).

[shrug] Unless it's Japanese, an untranslated foreign word that hasn't passed into common English parlance, or "shampoo", I'm not likely to scream too much over individual words.

Like Khazar, I like my teeth to have fillings. I just don't like to emasculate English too much, given that there are plenty of people out there who do that for me already.

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I think one can - and should - make a distinction between imported words and proverbial phrases. As everyone agrees, purging the language of 'foreign' words would be absurd: English is essentially a hybrid language and purging it would render it unusable. Plus, pre-Norman English would be incomprehensible to most people

Phrases that depend on a specific real-world frame of reference are a little different, though. An 'omnipotent author' might be able to use a phrase like 'Pyrrhic victory' (no offence to the story that used this; it's just a convenient example), but if a character used it, they'd essentially be referring to something that's never happened in their universe. Same with 'cut the Gordian knot' or even 'deus ex machina'. Could parallels in Middle-earth's own history perhaps be found?

Gemma

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

An 'omnipotent author' might be able to use a phrase like 'Pyrrhic victory' (no offence to the story that used this; it's just a convenient example), but if a character used it, they'd essentially be referring to something that's never happened in their universe.

No offense taken. I had looked for a M-e example that would fit the context of the story, and which could convey the same meaning with just those one or two words, and came up empty. IMO the overall impact of the story would have been greatly diminished by omitting that phrase.

BTW it was a horse's POV, so I thought readers might cut him a little slack.

~Nessime

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

BTW it was a horse's POV, so I thought readers might cut him a little slack.

LoL! Hey, not in this highly-demanding archive, Nessime. We have lofty standards even for horses.

Could parallels in Middle-earth's own history perhaps be found?

I think this is what makes a story really rich - allusions to other stories that fill in the universe, like Aragorn's saying that Gandalf "is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel." For me, that kind of thing really brings the world to life.

-Aerlinnel

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I think this is what makes a story really rich - allusions to other stories that fill in the universe, like Aragorn's saying that Gandalf "is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel." For me, that kind of thing really brings the world to life.

Agreed. If there had been such an event from M-e that would have conveyed the same meaning I might have used it. I don't know if you've read the story or not, but if you knew the context in which the phrase was used, you might understand what I'm talking about. It wasn't chosen lightly, nor was there any deliberate intention to slight the mythology of M-e. From the protagonist's POV it had been an extordinarily costly victory--and I might have chosen to word it that way, but it wouldn't have created as powerful an image IMO. And in part, it was the sound of the word, as well as the meaning, that worked so well for that particular line.

I might add that it didn't seem to bother the nine reviewers who approved the story for the archive. It was the first story I submitted, and I am very proud of it, even if some people still object to the use of the phrase.

~Nessime

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

Slightly OT: does anyone think this issue would make good material for a challenge? E.g. create a proverbial phrase of Middle-earth and the story of its origin?

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

does anyone think this issue would make good material for a challenge?

Oooh...

-Aerlinnel

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I might add that it didn't seem to bother the nine reviewers who approved the story for the archive. It was the first story I submitted, and I am very proud of it, even if some people still object to the use of the phrase.

My dear Nessime, I certainly didn't mean to bring that up only to have you feel as though you need to defend it!! It is a beautiful story and that phrase is *very* effective. Me- I wanted to have someone succumb to a siren call, but I think I've changed it. Can't modify the "connect the dots" because the characters in question are (surprise!) looking at the stars. I'll probably modify that phrase as well.

Now the idea of making up M-E historical things (such as Queen Beruthiel, excellent choice!) is indeed a fascinating thing, and definitely could be tied in to that archeology challenge/nuzgul concept...

And I didn't mean to indicate that I was trying to take all of the foreign words out of English. That's all English is, is a mishmash of everybody else's stuff! It was foreign words themselves, such as naivete, or if someone put in a Latin phrase (such as the Boromir/fait accompli as mentioned earlier in the thread) that worry me.

But perhaps I do far too much of that anyway! Appropriateness of the words to the characters is indeed the key element.

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

Words and phrases don't bother me if they're pretty well absorbed and Anglicized. If they're still generally italicized to indicate foreignness, then I'd say they're probably not a great idea to use in a Middle-earth context.

References to historical events, though, would bug me. So if someone were to write about an attack, and had one character say to another "Let's use a Trojan horse technique," I'd have problems with anachronism. I've read a couple of stories that were quite good in other respects but had a lot of such anachronistic phrases, and after a while I couldn't take it.

Just as an example, in my WiP "Courting the Lady" there's a scene in which Aragorn waxes lyrical about the plains of Rohan and talks about "the white umbels of wild carrot" among the grasses. I decided that calling the plant "Queen Anne's lace" would sound wrong, thought about picking some historical queen or great lady of Gondor to substitute, but decided that would be confusing, so went with a completely different common term.

In general I think it's really just a judgment call on the author's part as to whether a particular word, phrase, simile, metaphor, reference, what-have-you works well or comes across as too modern. When in doubt, you can always ask someone else what she thinks, right?

Cel

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I'm pretty persnickety myself in this area. I try and stick with Celtic and Anglo-Saxon sourced words. I won't even refer to someone as "angelic" or "monastic" because those are references to Christianity, which isn't a M-E cultural concept, despite all the parallels. But I think there's a few slips allowable in a canon-conscious fic before it raises my hackles. There's also differences in tone between a humor fic and a serious one. Plus, I'd expect an LOTR fic to have Tolkien's modern slips and references, but I'd be harsher judging them in a Silmarillion one.

Speaking of language tolerance, I also find that canon-conscious readers will not tolerate one particular Anglo-Saxon word in a Tolkien fic: "fuck." It's too harsh, too blatantly obscene for Middle-Earth.

And it's strange because, as has been noted, readers will tolerate other peccadillos or inaccuracies or non-canonical activity. I can get away with orcs talking filth, I can get away with elves engaging in sexual practices Tolkien didn't even know existed, but I can't use that word at all without getting negative feedback. Go figure.

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

This topic is interesting (and, I would think, be very close to Tolkien's heart!). Remember that the whole of LOTR is supposed to be a translation by Prof Tolkien of the Red Book. And his "modern English" is meant to translate the original "Westron". Therefore we - as putative "later" translators - would be justified in using our own modern idioms (in the same way that a translator of today would not be doing a "Chapman's Homer", but rather a Christopher Loge Homer).

Thus - to take Tyellas' last point about the use of "fuck" - my Orcs use it lavishly (just as I hear it being used to "punctuate" narratives in certain circles nowadays). Tolkien, however, "translates" Orc-talk much more circumspectly - as would be expected by his target audience when he wrote. The example I used was Black Speech "bagronk", which Tolkien translates as "cesspit". My Orcs would definitely have said "shit-pit" or "craphole". Interestingly, no-one objected to my use of swear-words in "Hope for the Uruk" - just to the rest of it *g*.
Blessings
Grond

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

Picture it... Sicily, 1920... (All right, I'll be serious now.)

In my fic for "Brotherly Advice" I have Boromir telling Faramir that Denethor loves him. Faramir says "Well, he has a heck of a way of showing it!" (Read the story for why Faramir would have such a hard time at this particular point in time believing Denethor loved him, but his father's just given him reason to doubt Denethor's statement, IMHO).

Now, originally I had Faramir saying "He [Denethor] has a hell of a way of showing it." That's obviously wrong -- can't reference hell, because that's a Christian (and hence post-ME) reference). Does heck have any other similar connotation? Is it "passable" for a Gondorian to say? If not, what would you suggest I say?

An interesting note, though. I started re-reading LotR for the 22nd, and am in "The Shadow of the Past". Last night I read where Sam says to Gandalf "Lor bless you, Mr Gandalf!" That's an exclamation I heard when I was in England last semester (obviously without the "Mr Gandalf"), and it's a contraction of "Lord bless you". What about that, then? Shouldn't Sam say "Luv (or Er) bless you, Mr Gandalf!" (for Illuvatar or Eru) or something similar? This isn't the narrator speaking, but it's an exact quote from Sam.

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I've seen Sam's use of "Lor" mentioned in discussions of religion on LOTR. Personally I think it was an oversight onTolkien's part. He was using UK rural working class idiom, where "Lor bless you" was common. Generally you could rationalise and say that by "Lor" (ie Lord), Sam was referring to Eru - but unfortunately there is no other evidence that Hobbits generally, knew or acknowledged either the Valar or The One.

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

Generally you could rationalise and say that by "Lor" (ie Lord), Sam was referring to Eru

Let's say for a second that Sam did use the expression "Eru bless me" (or something similar). There is evidence, at least, that Tolkien knew the name of Elbereth (and enough to call upon it), and Sam did know all about Beren and the Silmarils (he mentioned them in the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, so it's not a huge jump to say that Sam learned the "old tales" (which would have included the Valar at least) from Bilbo.

But back to the point. Even if Sam did say this, the point is that Tolkien would have translated it into terms understandalbe by the modern reader.

Literal translations don't, generally speaking work. If you were to translate somethin from even one modern language to another, without some cultural understanding. Say I was to go to some Spanish-speaking person who didn't know the concept of a green card and told them, that, to come to America, "Se necesita una placa de verdad." Now, literally translated, that means "You need a placard (card) of green." (By the way, I'm using Spanish because it's a language I am semi-fluent in.) And we're talking about Middle Earth, where we don't have this idiomatic heritage. So you either explain the concept behind the idiom or you use an idiom from the language you're translating into.

A lot of writers don't think of what they're doing as translating, but it is at least on some level. If we were writing for a fandom that admitted to being pure fantasy (say, Star Wars) then we could just say, "Oh, I made that story up." Unfortunately, Tolkien didn't make it quite that simple. He caimed that Middle-earth actually existed and that his books were a pre-history to our own culture (or at least his own culture). So when I invent Mellamir, my sister for Boromir and Faramir, I don't really invent her, I discover her -- from some long-forgotten manuscript or other record, because Middle-earth really existed (per Tolkien's claim), so did Mellamir. So she really existed. Therefore when I write her story I'm in essence translating from some manuscript.

Does this make any sense? No? You all think I've gone off the deep end? I blame all the nuzgul bites. But this is actually at least how I interpret the nuzgul Dwim unleashed on the HA list a few days ago to announce my helping her with the nuzguls.

Marta

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

I think that you need to decide what sounds best and works best within the context of the story. In general, I'm fine with people using English idioms... but I don't like people referencing specific real-world historic events. As for swear words... well, Tolkien never used them, and they don't really seem like they would have even existed as we know them in Middle Earth at the time period. They seem very modern and out of place, IMO.

 

 

Re: Writing conventions within fandom

JRRT did use the word "devilry"; and, I believe he used "hell" in the description of physically ghastly places, but never as in 'what the hell' or 'hell of a way'. If a writer wanted to have Faramir say 'he has a hell of a way of showing it (love or whatever), the writer could always have Faramir say "he has a strange way of showing it" - JRRT used "strange" a lot himself. Or even "he has a terrible way of showing it" if one wanted a stronger effect.... And only occasionally, Tolkien did allow characters to call on the Valar or refer to them. Which is very frustrating as a writer, there are so many times that an exclamation of "God!" or the M-e equivalent seems needed, only there is no M-e equivalent, because they don't exclaim the name of one or more Gods very often, if ever. RAKSHA THE DEMON

 

 

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