Monday, November 12, 2018

Can You Say That in Elf?

QUESTION: I have several scenes where a man is around elves. I don't want to invent my own language, and I'm afraid to use Tolkien's elf language. What can I do?

You're right to avoid using Tolkien's language. I doubt Tolkien's estate would be too pleased about that.

The simplest way to write the scene without inserting the language is to use the viewpoint of someone who doesn't know the language. You can then write something like--

Adam listened to the two elves talking to each other. Their language sounded like the wind in dry oak leaves mixed with babbling creek water. 

Finally the elf who could speak English said, "Our king says we will not help you."

Or you can have the scene from the viewpoint of the elf who speaks English.

The king said in their own language, "I do not trust these humans. Tell them that I will not help them find passage through our mountains."

Mossbark nodded and said in English to the humans, "Our king will not help you."

These tips works with any language.

NOTE: I use the word “English” as a catchall, but you should use the term for whatever language your viewpoint character speaks.  

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pushing Humor Too Far

The mystery series was a cozy with a light tone and humorous moments, but the third book in the series started with the murder of the heroine’s closest friend and moved through the next days with sleuthing as well as the process of grieving for and burying someone you love.

I imagine most would agree that this situation is not a comedy waiting to happen.  Unfortunately, the writer was so desperate to bring the light tone in that she proceeded to add slapstick.  

At the family visitation, one of the heroine’s friends pretends to knee the heroine’s boyfriend, her heel breaks, and she really kicks him in the jewels.

The heroine receives a threatening phone call, then her bedroom door knob jiggles.  She slips as she reaches for a Taser and bangs her head, then, before she realizes it’s a cop friend, she shoots him as he enters her room and he slips banging his head.  They end up concussed together on the bed where her friend discovers them the next morning and has a fun time wondering what went on between the not-a-couple.

I could only shake my head during these scenes that so desperately tried to add humor to a situation that wasn’t funny.  Not only was the over-the-top-to-the-point-of-ridiculous humor displaced, it tried so hard that the book fell apart.  

Moments like this are what trusted critique partners, beta readers, and good editors are all about.  They should have told the writer that sometimes a light tone just doesn’t fit the situation, and that poor taste and slapstick have no place in certain situations.  

How can you judge this with your own writing?  Think of your novel as a movie.  If you are writing a mystery movie full of dark atmosphere and duplicitous suspects, a scene from DUMB AND DUMBER just won’t  fit, will it?  A light moment of character revelation or a funny story about a victim would.  

Stay true to the tone that’s needed and listen to your early readers.  That’s more important than trying to maintain the tone of the series.  If not staying true bothers you, then find another plot that will fit that tone.