Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Wednesday Promo- Keena Kincaid
‘It’s All Greek to Me’
If some strange collision of the space-time continuum and a parallel universe popped my hero into my living room, I would (sadly) not understand a word he said.
Alain might—after looking past my startled expression and seeing my pasty skin and blue eyes—assume I’m Scottish and offer up the Gaelic version of “What the hell?” Although it’s just as likely he’d blurt the question in Medieval Norman French as my Scottish ancestors got to Scotland by way of the Norman Conquest.
Either way, the best I could offer would be a frantic, “je ne comprends pas.”
And though I have no worries (hopes?) that Alain will show up in my living room, I still agonized over how much “period” language to put in my medieval romance ART OF LOVE. Well, I agonize over it in all my books, but this one was particularly tough. He’s a Norman pretending to be a Scotsman pretending to be a scholar in Paris while spying for the English king. Whew. I needed to make sure my readers understood him without needing a dictionary and yet I wanted him to sound authentic (whatever that is for a Norman pretending to be a Scotsman pretending to be a scholar…).
Getting the language right has been a worry of mine since I read a regency novel where the author used Cant phrases for her Cockney characters. Unfortunately, every time she used a phrase, she stepped out of the story to explain it. The authenticity she’d struggled to bring to the story was lost because of the need to define those words.
As usual, I’ve probably over-thought this, but I can’t help but wonder where the line is between too little and too much? Do certs, forsooth and besew add charm to the story or do they just slow the reader down? While I would never put the words it’s, OK or ain’t in my 12th century hero’s mouth, is saying “a chirm” rather than “a cacophony” going too far even if four hundred years stand between my character and the latter word?
Eventually, I came up with a two-fold solution that I think (hope) works:
1. Narrative: I sacrificed authenticity for readability. After all, how many people want to read Beowulf in its original form even though it’s a fabulous story? Instead, I season the narrative with ancient words and phrases that are self-explanatory or still around, and go on. Fortunately, it’s surprising how many of Old English and medieval words we still use. For example, spew has meant “to vomit” since the 9th century. Who knew?
2. Dialogue: This is where I play. Because dialogue is based on character—i.e. class, education, ethnic background, etc.— I let myself have fun putting words in my characters’ mouths, but I make sure to explain to define the phrase as part of subsequent dialogue rather than in stand alone sentences.
For example, in ART OF LOVE, both Abigail (my heroine) and Alain are very well educated, so their speech is salted with quotes, foreign phrases and references to historical authors. Even more fun, Alain hides his true identity. So while he speaks with a perfect Parisian accent most of the time, when he’s tired, drunk or angry his words take on a Scottish lilt or he speaks in Gaelic. Here’s a sample:
Gingerly handling the fragile script, she unrolled it and read the opening line: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres… Her heart skittered in excitement. She didn’t know this work. “Qu’est-ce que ce?”
“What is what?”
Abigail twisted around and held up the parchment. “This. I—”
In a blink Alain was at her side, palm out.
She recoiled. “What?”
“Do you have any idea how rare and fragile that is?”
“I am not ignorant.” She handed the parchment to him, although her mind itched to read it from beginning to end.
As soon as his hand closed over the parchment, the flare of anger in his eyes dimmed. Muttering more rolling words she didn’t understand, he returned the scroll to the shelf as if he tucked a newborn into bed. When satisfied it was secure, he glanced at her. “It says all of Gaul is divided into three parts.”
“I know the words. I have read since I was four. I do not recognize the work.”
“And you know everything that has been written?”
“I know everything that I have read.”
I assume all writers have had this same struggle—i.e. dialogue in a gritty crime novel should sound like the streets, but gang slang is likely lost on most readers—but I don’t know this for sure. How deep into language do you, as a writer, go? Where do you draw the line between flavoring the story and ruining it? More importantly, for you readers out there, how deep do you want us authors to go?
About Art of Love
Abigail d'Alene has been sinfully in love with learning all her life. Now a widow, she has the means and freedom to indulge in her passion. Pretending to be Abelard, a fifteen-year-old boy from an outlying village, she heads to the Latin Quarter of Paris and the abbey schools that will one day change the world.
Shocked by her ineptitude at masquerading as a boy, Alain of Huntly Woods takes the young “Abelard” under his protection until she recovers her sense and goes home. But her audacity, intelligence and refusal to compromise spark enough friction between them to burn through his cold logic and carefully laid plans. In Paris as a spy for Henry II, Alain has sold his soul to the Angevin devil in exchange for the king's promise of an heiress, land and power.
As his good intentions bring him unexpected passion, he struggles to find a way to have it all. Then he discovers Abigail's uncle, confessor to King Louis VII of France, plots against the English king, and Alain must choose between protecting his king or the woman he loves beyond all reason.
ART OF LOVE is available in both print and e-book formats from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon and other booksellers. ISBN: 1-60154-381-6. To read an excerpt, go to: http://www.keenakincaid.com/artoflove.php
About the author
Keena Kincaid is author of ANAM CARA and ART OF LOVE from The Wild Rose Press. Her only house rule is no talking before she’s had her first cup of coffee. You can learn more about the book and its author at http://www.keenakincaid.com, as well as MySpace, FaceBook and Twitter. You can find her books at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon Art of Love and Anam Cara and other booksellers.