Blog of a Writer on the Go and Barely Here.
Here by accident?
Looking for something more 'family-friendly'? Check out my Children's & Young Adult Blog:The Wide Writing World of Emily McKeon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Are You Hip to the Jive?

Authenticity can enhance or destroy any story. You set a story in a real world setting, make sure it's one you're familiar with or you'll hear it from your readers. Make the dialog unrealistic and you'll alienate others.

Seems like a legitimate request

What prompted this post? you might be asking. Or not. I'm a writer, not a mind reader. Either way, I'll tell you. This post has been a long time in coming, spurred on by something that happened on last night's writing group. (I knew you were all looking forward to another Writing Group installment.)

The first time the authenticity issue came to my attention it was while I was reading a book whose title shall remain unnamed. It was a novel I heard great things about and was repped by a very, very well known agent. I figured it had to be good, right? For me, not so much.

If you live in MA, you either belong to this family...

or you do this on the weekends. And weekdays. Whenever.

The premise of Untitled was good, but the setting kept pulling me out. Supposedly, it takes place in Massachusetts. This would have been fine if the writer kept it generic or had some understanding of Massachusetts and the people who live there. Instead, towns and their inhabitants were horribly stereotyped. I tried to get past these issues, but ended up giving up once the MC was taunted by many of the other characters for not wanting to take a plane from Boston to NYC because he was afraid of flying. Because, you know, so many people choose to FLY from MA to NY. No one would ever, say, take the train or bus. God forbid they DROVE the whole 3-4 hours.

To someone not from the area, these things might not have caused them any additional thought. To someone like me, the book read like the author heard about this place called Boston and based their location and characters on things they heard second-hand. Too many times = Deal breaker. I never finished the book.

Yesterday, this issue of authenticity came up, this time in my own writing. For anyone who doesn't know, my husband had an idea for a detective series set in the 1920s. He drew up the outline and handed it off to me for the actual writing. Yes, I'm my husband's ghost writer.

Working with a time setting of the 20s brought interesting challenges, one of which was the slang. While researching the slang of the time was fun, I worried about over-doing it. My solution was to give the club-goers and musician-types jive talk, but my MC isn't up to speed on the lingo.

My husband read through what I wrote and gave his stamp of approval. He told me he had been worried about bogging down the story with too many slang terms, but ended up pleased with the result. Of course, we're both partial and will have to await judgement from the Impartial Authenticity Committee. If anyone wants to join the committee, feel free to check out Tinman and let us know.

Now we get to the Writer's Group portion of the post. Last night I met the rest of the group. The louder, more talkative section of the group, all of whom were absent on my first visit. One of these writers is working on a fantasy piece. I know, I know. What does authenticity have to do with the fantasy genre? Isn't the whole point of fantasy to work outside the normal and believable? (Hmm...maybe I should be a mind reader.)

The helmet's connected to the pauldron, the pauldron's connected to the..

The problem with this piece was, while well-conceived, it was over-written. I like details as much as the next reader, but too many in an effort to bring about the ring of authenticity with bog down the rest of the story. Certainly describe the armor your hero or heroine is wearing, but don't list every single piece. Knee and elbow pieces are extraneous, particularly if they add a whole paragraph to your novel.

The point I'm trying to make is authenticity can bite you both ways. If there's too little of it, people are going to notice. Too much and a reader will give up, lost somewhere between the vambraces and greaves. The challenge we all face is finding the balance and bringing a sense of true authenticity to our writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment