Monday, October 26, 2009

Choose Your Words Carefully

By Ali Cross

Tonight I watched the movie Arthur and the Incredibles with my family. It’s the fun story of a young boy who goes in search of his missing grandfather and finds himself in the middle of a tribal war between fantastical creatures that live beneath the ground. It has everything young children love in an adventure.

It also had some things that rubbed me the wrong way as a writer.

Here we are in a world other than our own and the Minimoys (tiny insect-people) know nothing about our world or cultural differences. Yet, one of the characters says “Mama mia” and another takes the Lord’s name in vain.

I found it bizarre that the writers of this script would include such contemporary phrases when they have no place in the Minimoy’s world. It would have been much better if the writers had created a unique phrase to show the characters’ frustration, rather than use one borrowed from our language.

You don’t need to create an entirely unique language for your other world, but please, get a little creative and find appropriate phrases or words to express emotion. Scott Westerfeld does a great job of this in his Uglies series. He regularly introduces words that have unique meanings in the dystopian world of his novels.

As a writer you work hard to create a world for your characters to draw the reader in and firmly plant them in the place you’ve created. Yet every time you use modern language, you yank your reader right out of the story.

Once the characters of Arthur and the Incredibles began speaking in ways that didn’t suit them, the fun slowly seeped out of the story for me. I didn’t believe it anymore, because the writers made it impossible for me.

So when you write your masterpiece, choose your words carefully. Let your readers find a home in your world and enjoy every moment, and every single word.


L.T. Elliot said...

I've noticed that too. The worse example I saw was in a victorian time setting with a clearly modern phrase. Not good.

Elena Jube said...

I'm with you. Period movies trying to act modern by using the wrong lingo make me twitch. James Dashner does a fantastic job of using language to validate his fantasy world in Maze Runner--have you read it? He creates a lingo--not complicated, just a few words and phrases, really--which gives a unique feel to his world that pages of description never could.