I want your opinion about a recurring critique I get from my weekly group, DFW Writers’ Workshop.
The issue: Words I use that readers say take them out of the Anasazi historical moment. A comment from last night’s critique session: “When any of these characters are thinking or talking, they cannot use 21st Century words. Tuwa wouldn’t think or say decades, he would say moons or something.”
It’s an issue that vexes me. Maybe I have a tin ear for words that seem false for the time period. The novelist Bob Mayer, for instance, called out my use of the word “comet.” I looked up the word’s root, and sure enough, Aristotle derived the name from “long hair” to describe the comet’s tail. Now I use “long-hair star” for “comet.” So feedback definitely helps.
Here I list ten examples of words, in brief context, that my writers’ group has called out. Please take the poll at the end to give me your opinions. Additional comments are always welcome. I greatly appreciate your thoughts.
- Grandfather’s circle of stones had recorded the heavenly movements of five or six decades. (Note: Used in Tuwa’s thoughts, but not his dialog.)
- He outlined his plan. (Narrator’s description of Tuwa’s action.)
- “There are fifteen farming villages within a day’s run for a young person,” said Grandmother Sweet Lady. (Critique: She would say, “villages where they grow corn, not farming villages.”)
- “Are you okay?” she asked. (Critique: “Okay is too modern a word for them to use.”)
- Chumana heard the first sound of a man speaking loudly in the courtyard as if telling a story or preaching a sermon. (Critique: “Sermon pulled me out of the moment because it doesn’t sound like a word they’d use in that time period.”)
- The boys led them into dark passageways and through doorways Chumana could not see. (Critique: “Doorways sounds like a word we’d use for modern houses, not ancient dwellings.”)
- “You must be a witch or something.” (Critique: “The or something sounds like modern juvenile slang.”)
- Grandfather laughed harder until he had a coughing fit from aspirating some of his saliva. (Critique: “Aspirating just seems too clinical here, and out of the period.”)
- Koko prepared the tobacco and smoking paraphernalia to pass among the elders. (Critique: “They wouldn’t have called it tobacco. They would’ve said ‘smoke weed,’ or something like that.”)
- Tuwa recognized Grandfather’s smooth globe of obsidian, deeply black and cool to the touch. (Critique: “Obsidian bothered me, it’s too 20th century, they’d call it ‘glass rock’ or something.”)