Monday, May 23, 2011

Winners, losers and two more complaints about editing

I'll ease out of Daniel Woodrell country with the observation that none of the characters in the three novels that make up the "Bayou Trilogy" is a winner in anything like the conventional sense.  Call me sentimental, but I call that a refreshing perspective.
***
An excavation into the book pile today turned up a mystery set in contemporary times with a prologue in the fourth century A.D. that had arrows being fired, meaning shot. Flaming arrows were used as early as the ninth century B.C., Wikipedia tells me, but I recall no indication that these arrows were of that variety. I also suspect that to fire as a synonym for to shoot or discharge a weapon did not enter English until after the invention of gunpowder and guns well after the fourth century. That would make its use in this book a distracting anachronism.

The same excavation turned up a book that referred to a man who killed a number of women over more than a decade as a "mass murderer." He was not. He was a serial killer.

Where were the editors of these books?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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19 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I disagree. Anachronism in language only occurs in dialog. The narrator is 20th/21st century and writes in his own language. If you have a fake narrator (a character living in another age and telling the story from his point of view) you end up getting a lot of fake style. We can never be 100 % sure how people spoke in different professions and at different moments in history. Holding an author to reproducing this language for all of his characters is a bit much to ask. At best an author can approximate this with a thorough study of books from the time. As a rule, it's best not to be too painstaking about it and just aim at giving the flavor. Otherwise the novel ends up confusing the general reader and irritating readers who know the writings of the period.
A serial killer is a mass murderer. He is, in addition, someone who murders with a precise object and M.O. in mind.
And "firing" sounds good to me.

May 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I must disagree with your disagreement. I don't suggest authors of historical works write in something they imagine to be archaic style. At the same time, they ought to avoid anachronism unless their goal is some literary equivalent of Shakespeare in modern dress. To my ears, firing in a battle scene conjures up such a strong picture of muskets or cannons blasting that it ruined the effect of the passage in question.

Had I been editing that book, I'd have strongly suggested a substitute, of which any number of non-archaic possibilities are available. (Of course, if editing the book, I'd have researched the etymology of fire more closely. Perhaps its use here is justified.)

Not so for mass murderer and serial killer. While I've consulted only popular sources (no psychology and criminology texts), every source I have looked at not only offers different definitions for the two terms, but most are careful to distinguish between the two. Here's a typical example:

Serial killers murder three or more victims, but each is killed on separate occasions. Unlike mass murderers and spree killers, serial killers usually select their victims, have cooling off periods between murders, and plan their crimes carefully.

May 23, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Okay, I see that. The mass murderer is in a different class from the multiple murderer.

May 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The less-common term multiple murderer includes both serial killers and mass murderers. A serial killer kills many victims, but only one at a time; a mass murderer kills them all at the same time.

May 24, 2011  
Blogger Jenni Wiltz said...

I've had the opposite problem with the historical stories I've submitted for workshopping in grad school: people telling me the details I've carefully researched are wrong.

Someone told me that it broke the suspension of disbelief when I mentioned greyhounds in a story that takes place in Louis XIV's court. "They hadn't been bred yet," the person said. "It made me question all your other historical details." Never mind the fact that Shakespeare mentions greyhounds in a number of his plays, and Anne Boleyn kept greyhounds more than a hundred years before Louis XIV was born.

That said, I 100% agree with your beefs regarding "fired" and "mass murderer."

May 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wikipedia's article suggests that the breed has ancient origins, bit it also offers this:

All modern, pure-bred pedigree Greyhounds are derived from the Greyhound stock recorded and registered, firstly in the private 18th century, then public 19th century studbooks, which ultimately were registered with coursing, racing, and kennel club authorities of the United Kingdom.

Of course, the last thing a champion of historical accuracy ought to be doing os citing Wikipedia. Still, perhaps the lag of time between the breed's development and the formal recording of its bloodlines may be responsible for the criticism of yourt story.

On the other hand ...

Perhaps a related question to when greyhounds originated is when the name greyhound was first used to designate the breed.

May 24, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I think it depends on what sources a person thinks are the most reliable. I would use the word whippet more readily than greyhound for the court of Henry VII, but that is because received opinion refers to portraits from that period and this word has become common currency for writing about that time.

There is nothing to stop a writer working their own perception into anything they write. What amazes me, continually, is the number of people who rush in to correct them.

A favourite example I can think of is a poem where Oscar Wilde has flowers from every season of the year in bloom simultaneously. It drives some people crazy. I just accept it as I do a Dutch still life which offer the same beautiful, if impossible, conceit.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Sorry, Henry VIII.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not ready to pronounce judgment on Jenni's greyhound question without having read the passage at issue. Mentioning the word in an expository passage might be necessary to make the passage comprehensible to contemporary readers. But if the word had not yet acieved wide currency at the time of the story's setting, including it in dialogue might be jarring.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

There's no problem, as it turns out. Jenni is an expert, unlike me, and these sites proves it:

"http://bestnew-pet.com/greyhound-greyhound-dog-detailed-characteristics.html"

"http://www.chiensderace.com/doc/chasse/chasse_a_courre.php#3"

"http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Documents/hunting.htm"

There are wonderful examples of anachronisms that are in fact impossible as in the case of an Irish writer who set his work in 17th Century Japan with cups and saucers on the table (cups with handles, or so it was reported by an appalled reader) and the rain lashing the window panes (there were not glass windows in Japan at that time, or at least none have been recorded.) I find these contretemps highly entertaining.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Jenni Wiltz said...

I wouldn't classify myself as an expert...just a writer who likes doing her homework!

History is so fascinating that it feels wrong *not* to do the research. But then again, if that were the case, we'd never experience any of these fascinating anachronisms!

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

Well done on helping me to look up the French connection with greyhounds. "Lévriers" occurs in "Horace" by Corneille which was performed in the court of Louis XIV.

Using the French word might distract nit-picking readers from getting in a wax... and since they won't know what it means often, they'll probably skip on in the reading.

(That does not go for Peter, however, as his fascination with all words is now global knowledge. And we are all the better for it...)

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P a D: I try to maintain a bit of humility in the matter of anachronisms. Who knows how many I've missed?

Since I'm a words guy as opposed to a historian of some other area of human endeavour, it's anachronistic use of words that pushes me over the edge.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jenni, research is highly enjoyable. But I imagine that even diligent authors of fiction have been tripped up by anachronisms in areas they so took for granted that they didn't bother looking them up.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Jenni Wiltz said...

Too true! I'm sure I have plenty in my own writing, as much as I'd like to think I don't. We're only human, after all. :)

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Only human and, as such, willing to immerse ourselves in reading and research so we can avoind writing.

I am reading a novel set in eighteenth-century Japan. I've discovered no anachronisms yet, and I don't know that I will. This guy is good.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tales, using the term without explanation might be unwise in a novel written in English, but inserting a definition might be ponderous. What should a historically minded author do? Depends on the context.

In a chapter devoted to the dog breed, a brief footnote might be called for. If not, the author might work an explanation into the text. The author could use the everyday English word, greyhound, but have a character quote from or read a brief passage from Corneille that uses the French word.

Thanks for your kind words about my fascination with lexicon. I found lévrier in the course of research for a comment on this post. This included discovering its colloquial use for what English speakers call doggie style. The French, precise and analytical as they are, specify the breed: position du lévrier. This blog can be educational.

May 25, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

This is the sort of thread that gives the Socratic method a bad name.

I have thought better of using the "l" word, but not because of the associations you have found, Peter.

I doubt if a young writer would want to start a career based on the sort of reputation that James Joyce still has and become a lure for Freudians and cranks.

May 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I prefer to think of this as the sort of thread that could reinvigoraqte the Socratic method for a new generation.

May 26, 2011  

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