Just one little thing …


Has this ever happened to you while reading? You’re going along, everything’s fine, and then — BAM!— one thing happens in the story that seems off, and suddenly nothing feels right.

My most recent read, which I’m still on the fence about finishing, was a novel I had been looking forward to reading. The premise looked interesting and fresh, the author was new to me but the reviews I’d seen were uniformly filled with praise.

The story, which I’m at great pains not to divulge the title of as it would violate my own review policy to not be negative, is set many decades in the past and therein lies my problem. Despite those glowing reviews that speak of the novel’s historical accuracy and use of period language and settings, it … doesn’t.

The kicker for me, the one inaccuracy that tipped the scales to the point where I’m not sure I care to continue, happened around a fifth of the way through the novel. A phrase which came into use in the 1970s was spoken by a character who in truth would likely have died of old age long before possibly hearing it. In retrospect, however, this “one thing” merely confirmed the feeling I had from almost the first page: the story was not as authentic as it was claimed to be.

To be sure, I’m not opposed to the intentional use of anachronism for comedy or perhaps to make a political or artistic statement. I can live with the occasional honest mistake, too, which as authors we’re all liable to make (Ed: here you could refer them to “Carpathia” and “The Devil’s Harvest” as examples 🙂 ).

But a big part of why I was so excited about this particular novel was the idea that I would be immersed into a time period that I haven’t seen much fiction set in. At its most basic the main plot has been told endlessly, but I had hoped it might be made fresher and more compelling simply because of the setting.

As someone who has written Historical Fiction and likely committed the same “sin” as I’m judging this other novel for, I realize there is a great likelihood of being called a hypocrite. If it happens, I can’t deny it, but I also have been called much worse :).

I would love to hear your thoughts …


9 responses to “Just one little thing …

  1. In keeping with your not negative theme, I won’t name this title. I recently read a book by a well-established author that made me go, “Eh.” During the last third, everything went into overdrive and the ending felt rushed. Not exactly the same as your situation; this was centered on plot. Not a Deus Ex Machina ending exactly, it still gets me that this happened. The book was fairly large so it wasn’t for a lack of space. I enjoyed the story overall, wishing for a better resolution explanation.

    • I’ve muddled through the same situation. The more I think about it, this particular book wasn’t going to be finished by me. The “one little thing” just tipped me over. I don’t *not* finish very many, but I also don’t like muddling through very much. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Scott Zachary

    That’s a tricky business. I just finished a novelette set in 17th century Ireland, and had to make the conscious choice to use *some* modern language because, frankly, the dialog in the first draft was exceptionally stilted at best, and incomprehensible at worse. I suppose this may be one of the “know the rule before you break it” things?

    • Agreed. As I noted in reply to above comment, I think if everything else had been working in this novel’s plot I may have stuck it out, ignored the modern phrasing as an unfortunate error.
      It is probably impossible for us to *not* infuse our writing with sensibilities from our own age … short of jumping into a time machine how can we know to comfortably navigate the norms and speech of the past?
      I’m sure I committed much worse “violations” in my own two novels, and on the stillborn third book, set in 1950s Chicago, I had already caught myself using language that wasn’t right. There is, though — I think! — a way to do it innocently and to minimize the disruption to the reader’s immersion.
      I’m just not a good enough writer to do it. 🙂

      • Scott Zachary

        I opted for compromise. Peppered a little antiquated slang here and there and used place names from the era; avoided distractingly obscure and stilted language in favor of more familiar speech patterns. No idea if I was successful. 🙂

      • Sounds like a wise approach. When does it come out?

      • Scott Zachary

        When someone buys it. 😉

        Just submitted it to a few journals yesterday, so it will be a long wait for all the rejection letters. I don’t think I used enough purple prose for it to get accepted.

      • Don’t forget self-publishing. Even if it short, you can still do a “Kindle Single” or as a novella if longer. I went through the rejection letter phase and decided to go ahead and put my work out into the world anyway. It’s not difficult.

        If you want to do that, let me know and I’d be glad to assist.

      • Scott Zachary

        I figured I’d give some top tier literary journals a try, you know, for poops and giggles. If they pass, Kindle Singles was my next stop. If *they* pass, I’ll self-pub. Although I don’t know if the world needs more works of dubious literary merit dumped onto the slag heap of orphaned and unwanted stories. 🙂

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