Literary pet peeves

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at
Sun Feb 9 17:33:51 EST 2003

--- Charles Butler <
> This seems a pretty good rule of thumb. Does it
> apply to third person
> narrators as well as characters, though? 

I don't see why not, however see the end from some
more, and rather contrary thoughts on the matter.

In the
> first draft of what I'm
> writing at the moment, for instance, I've referred
> to someone setting a
> 'fuse of rumour'. This is in an Iron Age setting.
> It's a clunky phrase that
> will probably go anyway, but does the anachronism
> matter considering a) it's
> a metaphor and b) it's the narrator talking, and not
> at that moment from any
> characters' POV? I can't decide, but I feel a bit
> uncomfortable with it.

I doesn't sound right to me I'm afraid. maybe
something like "spark or rumour". I think metaphors
have to be ones that would have been used by the
people nvolved.

> >Robert Graves in his Claudius books uses the modern
> equivilents for Roman
> military units -battalion rather than cohort etc
> Garner's Vietnam-inspired GI legionaries in Red
> Shift must be the modern
> locus classicus of this kind of thing. Always
> thought it was a brilliant
> stroke in itself, but not sure how well it gelled
> with the 'authentic'
> Cheshire dialect he put in the 17th century scenes.
> Two different solutions
> to the same problem smacks of ad hockery. 

I tend to agree, however (and I no longer recall the
book in any detail) it may serve to make the different
periods distinctive, although in red Shift with the
modern era as well that probably wouldn't work. As I
said it is many years since I read Red shift, indeed
the Vietnam war was still happening (or just over) and
this dialog may have sounded very different to me then
than it would now.

As I said above I've done a bit more thinking about
this. In wargaming there is (or was) a term used to
describe a feature of games "chrome" which was used
for all those little extras that didn't affect the
play of a game but improved the "feel" of it. It may
be things like giving military units their historic
designations rather than having them anonymous,
including place names on a map even though they
weren't needed for play. One game even had an infamous
"Italian Pasta rule" which required italian units to
carry extra water so they could cook their pasta.
These little details can really affect the "feel" and
"flavour" of a game and I think something similar
applies to historical fiction, and for that matter in
historical movies where such sins are much greater.
And as for the flagrant disregard of the history
suposedly portrayed (I'm thinking Braveheart here -
although there are many others) well they can
completely destroy what could otherwise be a quite
good movie. If that movie had been about a fictional
character doing those things, rather than a historic
one, it would have been good.
I know it is very postmodern to put in deliberate
anachronism, but this I feel is just another failing
of postmodernism, rather than an excuse for a movie
like "Knight's tale"
Having said all that, probably the most important hard
and fast rule of good writing is that there are no
hard and fast rules of good writing. Just about
anything can work if it is done well.


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