Sunday, 18 January 2009

No good being right if everyone thinks you're wrong... fiction at any rate.

At the start of Catch a Falling Star Caz, faced with a stranger on her roof, wishes she was a black belt in Jitsu. Several readers on Authonomy have tried to correct me - surely I mean Ju Jitsu? Haven't I got it wrong?

Actually, no; and I know a bit about it as my daughter is a green belt in Jitsu. It's one of the more usefully aggressive martial arts. When you reach a certain level, being pounced on by three muggers with knives holds no terrors for you, because you can deal with them. But I have wondered whether I should give in to general ignorance and change it.

My friend Cat had something similar in her book Echoes of the Sword's Song. Anna, her heroine, fleeing from an invading force led by Slayer Redblood (my favourite character, who thinks of his achievements, 'Not bad for the son of a whore') rushes to saddle her horse, but pauses to brush dust off his back first. I said, did it matter at such a time if he was a bit dusty?

And the answer is yes. If dust and debris is left between a horse's back and his saddle, it will make his back sore.

This sort of thing, where the writer knows more than the reader, crops up all the time on the writers' sites I frequent. And I still don't know whether it's dumbing down to change little-known facts, or a necessary accommodation to the reader.


  1. Don't compromise your integrity, Lexi.

    For once I shall say no more!

  2. On the whole I favour educating the reader.

    Reading novels is a pain-free method of learning new things, I think.

  3. Lexi, you're right; authors need to educate the reader while the story's current moves along. In one of Lee Child's Reacher stories, he has Reacher get in one of the military vehicles and push a "big red button" to start it--no ignition switch. Later on, when Reacher is in a situation requiring a quick exit, Reacher pushes the big red button and we know what that means. Child introduces the button long before it's needed, explains why it's there, and does that all as part of a scene that moves the story along without feeling like an infodump.

    There's a balance, of course, and how you can introduce Jitsu so early without tripping up your audience is difficult but surmountable. Every reader comes in with differing levels of knowledge to interact in the world you've constructed. Sometimes they know the wrong things. Due to so many crime shows, many people think they know about police procedure, yet the reality is quite different from the Hollywood image.

    The challenge is to use the audience’s misconceptions and preconceptions to shape your story.

    If the difference between Jitsu and Ju Jitsu is critical, then you’ll need to explain. If not, use “karate” and move on.

  4. I feel in the end I'll put Ju Jitsu, as it's more familiar to the public and of no importance to the plot.

    I won't be happy, though.


  5. I'd stick to Jitsu - let the reader learn something new (which I just have!)

    I was wondering - what's happening with your books - are you still publishing with YWO/Legend??

  6. I'm in the "leave the Jitsu" camp. Although it would be fun to substitute "Ginsu", although that may only resonate with an American audience, I don't know.

    Last I heard regarding the YWO books, both yours and mine were taking longer as they were accumulating blurbs for the back covers and both Salmon Rushdie and Terry Pratchett were begging for more time to "do adequate justice" to the work. Jilly Cooper's contribution came in right on time.

  7. Yes, Tor and Trav; I'm waiting to get an email that they're ready.

  8. Alan, you posted while I was trying to remember my password!

    I used to have the same one for everything; now they are all different and complex and I can't always bring them to mind.

  9. The blurb from George W. Bush just came in for mine:

    "Book? Why in the world would I read a book?"

    Yes, passwords can be vexing things. One of the first to sell-out Christmas stocking stuffer items at the store was a Password Book, wherein you could document all of your sign-in information. Of course if you lost the notebook you were pretty well up a creek without a paddle, and if it "fell into the wrong hands" life could be even more difficult.

    Seriously, I'm figuring on sometime in maybe April for our books to see the light of day. Anything earlier than that will be a pleasant surprise.


  10. I gave up and listed all my passwords and what they are for in a little book.

    I used this in Catch a Falling Star; Caz finds the password book belonging to the baddie in his desk drawer, and is able to access his computer.

    Yes, let's look to April, and drum our fingers after that.

  11. OMG, even the internet is a very small world.

    I was one of those readers who queried you (politely) about jitsu last year!!

    And my two cents: if this were a published book that I picked up off the shelf I would have accepted jitsu as a legitimate form of martial arts.

    But when we read unpublished books with critical eyes peeled, we query everything as if it MIGHT be a typo.

    I wouldn't change it either.

  12. Stace, I changed it to Ju-jitsu, though it's interesting what you say about the extra authority a published book has - and rightly, assuming it's been properly edited.

    My daughter's a purple belt now. I suppose I could change it back...