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Accuracy vs. understanding

I suspect any time an author's drawing on a time period or culture unfamiliar to their general audience, this problem comes up: how do you keep the details of the world accurate, but also make sure the reader understands what's going on?

(Obviously there is the "write a big info dump explaining everything" option, but I think it's also obvious that's rarely a good option. ;) )

Take LOKI'S BOY. An important part of the plot revolves around the fact that winter isn't ending when it's supposed to. Though at first the main character thinks it's just an especially bad winter and it'll end any day.

Trouble is, in the Norse world there were only two seasons: winter and summer. So when I say something like, "Two weeks into summer, it was still snowing," I mean winter's lasted two weeks longer than people would expect. But a reader used to that whole four seasons thing is probably going to think, Yikes, they didn't even get spring? How can they not be freaking out?

I have tried to work in some dialogue that makes it sort of clear that summer directly follows winter, but it's pretty hard to make that natural. Which makes me wonder if I should just "translate" those two Norse seasons into our current four seasons, and call it spring, so readers will know what the heck I'm talking about. But I hate doing that when I know it's not true to the world.

Thoughts? Those of you who write in other times and cultures--how do you balance accuracy and understanding?

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Apr. 20th, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
Me too!
I have this same problem, too. How do you even talk about something that is obvious to the characters but intrinsically strange to the readers? If the whole idea (or one idea) of fiction is to present different realities, this comes up all the time.

In my case I cheated a little, and had a character from our world encounter the strangeness.

"You can shoot fire out your fingers? That's weird!"
"You CAN'T? That's what's weird."

It's tough though. Because if the narration is through the POV of people who don't see anything strange in summer immediately following spring, and you have no characters in the story to exclaim at how unusual that is, you're in a tight spot.

Maybe they can reference other places, half-mythical (to them), far to the south or in stories, where there's a time of softness between the warmth and the cold, a shifting season of change on either side of winter ... but they don't really believe it because that sounds so strange.

The trick is doing all this so it doesn't seem artificial.

Good luck!

Seth
stirlingbennett
Apr. 24th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
First of all, Veronica Mars, Sydney Bristow and Loki? Three of my favorite people!

And then the season thing...I think Seth's idea is a good one. Or maybe he could remember how when he was younger he loved going to sleep one night, looking out at all the snow, knowing it would all be gone by morning and he'd get to wear shorts...or a thinner loincloth, whatever those Norse gods wear to play around in. I don't know. If the shift had some kind of nostalgic/symbolic importance for him, that would make sense for him to reference it.

But don't fudge stuff for the sake of clarity if you can help it. If it's that much of a concern, it could be addressed in the book's section on your site, talking about how hard it can be to translate a mythical world into a framework kids today understand. Or something.

P.S. Great cover! How exciting!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books


Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014


The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012


The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013


The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014


Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014


Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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