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Thread: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

  1. #1
    McScottish's Avatar The Scribbling Scotsman
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    Default Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Basileos Leandros I View Post
    I was very disappointed back then to be honest - there was even a common theme in the rejections: "Good enough, but you went full historical, too authentic." What that meant was - "Making it sound like Shakespeare doesn't make it that interesting unless you're a Shakespeare fan"

    (formal dialogue, stilted even in some cases, the whole piece was far too authentic to make it a viable sell)

    This was posted in another thread, but it did get me thinking - what are my honourable peers views on this topic? How do you like your writing to be? Any specific authors that exemplify this for you?

    Personally I'm a fan of at least mild authenticity, authors like Christian Cameron being my favourites, and first-person viewpoints to tales as well.

    Three of my favourite books, all set during the Late Roman Empire - 'Eagle in the Snow' by Wallace Breem, 'The Boat of Fate' by Keith Roberts and 'Raptor' by Gary Jennings - are all written from a first-person viewpoint and all reasonably authentic, each author making the best use of the information they had at the time of writing, hence why some of Jennings' descriptions of Roman armour etc are a little anachronistic at times.

    It is from these and others that I take my lead when it comes to writing AARs and stories of my own, my own belief being that first-person - while being more limited in scope due to being 'static' in placement - allows for more of that grounding...more...sense of being to a person and their environment.

    Perhaps it is because of this that I have found more modern authors of the 'Sword & Sandal' genre, authors like Scarrow and Sidebottom (who are both good in their own respects by-the-by), to be more like the 'Hollywood' of the genre; big and cinematic with their writing, less capable of the descriptive and non-military aspects, but pretty good at writing set-piece battles and skirmishes. Basically the sort of books you find in WHSmiths by an airport or train station.

    Don't get me wrong, I like both of them and a few others, just fine! After the first few books I found they weren't for me though.

    So, what about my fellow readers/writers? You have the floor.

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    Hitai de Bodemloze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    I largely stopped reading fiction, quite a few years ago now, so I don't really have authors or styles that I want to emulate - I suppose I'm more concerned with my own style. What has stayed with me though are some of the techniques of Thomas Hardy. Although I don't actively seek to copy his prose, his approach to writing - in terms of pacing in particularly - has had a profound effect on me, so that's always in the back of my mind when I approach a writing project. Although I sense that's not really an answer to your question.

    I suppose I veer more towards readability than authenticity (not least of all because most of my 'historical' stories feature magic or demons or somesuch). I've never much been concerned with crafting an authentic representation of a historical period. I sometimes blend and borrow from historical sources to make a passable pastiche of historical accuracy, but I'm usually more concerned with crafting my story. I guess there's kind of a minimum baseline that I try and hit, to make sure everything is roughly in the right place and the right time, but that's pretty much in the rear-view mirror from thereon out.
    Last edited by Hitai de Bodemloze; June 12, 2018 at 04:30 PM.

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    NorseThing's Avatar Primicerius
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    The best writing is simple and direct. Loading a paragraph down with a lot of verbiage and complex sentence construction is to be avoided. I prefer the style of Hemingway. See the first two sentences here. Which one reads better? I believe the first is better. There can be some complicated structures, but the complications should be desired. They should add to the tale. Otherwise, it is simply Victorian Bric--brac. There is nothing basically wrong with Bric--brac, but it should be needed and not simply a flourish added to dress up an otherwise ordinary idea. Hemingway would not have penned the last sentence. He might have kept the Bric--brac. He might have broken the sentence into three pieces. I am no Hemingway. Sigh. I am merely an old man without the sea.

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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    Readability or authenticity?

    Well, we can try to write in a way that makes it clear the world around our characters is not the world we live in; that customs and manners are different, and appropriate behaviour is not the same there as here. That seems like a good thing to do. But almost all of our writing is always going to be in a modern language (English, in my case), otherwise very few people will be able to read it. And we'll run into the problem Basileos Leandros I had. In the end, I think some readability is necessary - if your writing isn't readable, then nobody's going to try and read it. But there's nothing wrong with trying to be authentic as well. You just have to work out where the balance is for you (and the audience you're writing for). Some people really enjoy reading things in archaic language; lots of people enjoy reading about settings and cultures foreign to their own lives. It's more a sliding scale than a binary choice, I think - and different people have different preferences.

    Quote Originally Posted by NorseThing View Post
    The best writing is simple and direct. Loading a paragraph down with a lot of verbiage and complex sentence construction is to be avoided. I prefer the style of Hemingway. See the first two sentences here. Which one reads better? I believe the first is better. There can be some complicated structures, but the complications should be desired. They should add to the tale. Otherwise, it is simply Victorian Bric--brac. There is nothing basically wrong with Bric--brac, but it should be needed and not simply a flourish added to dress up an otherwise ordinary idea. Hemingway would not have penned the last sentence. He might have kept the Bric--brac. He might have broken the sentence into three pieces. I am no Hemingway. Sigh. I am merely an old man without the sea.
    I like both of your first two sentences, NorseThing. Different styles just do different jobs - they have different effects. So there are times when I want to be simple and direct, times when I want to expand a bit more, times when I want to be elaborate, decorative or elegant, and perhaps even times when I want my writing to sound overwrought, because that conveys something I want to convey. I absolutely agree with you that it should be a conscious choice, with a reason for that choice, though.






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    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    Ha, good to see that my post garnered reactions

    Indeed, there is a fine line, a middle way if you like, between what's sellable and what's authentic. Original Shakespeare, written in the stilted and not fully developed English of those times is not a pretty read in these days unless you're a literature fan looking for the most authentic experience. Chances are, even if you are a literature fan, the words can sometimes be unintelligible because of the various usage back then. And that's not surprising at all when it comes to making books readable - if your reader doesn't understand it fully, will he continue reading?

    Probably not.

    Hence why the best way is going in between - keep it authentic, make sure everything is correct and even in the dialogue it can reflect some formality.
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    I am very bad at writing fiction like that .So this thread is a good window of opportunity to learn .
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    This is an interesting question, but one which I think doesn't have a proper answer. I mean, whether it's "better" to go for authenticity or readability depends entirely on who you want to write for. If you want to see your book in an airport or train station kiosk, authenticity is a ridiculously bad move. If you want readers interested in historical fiction to read your work and learn something about a specific period, then you'll need to have some (possibly well advanced) level of authenticity in there. The authenticity will almost always need to be curbed to some extent so that the work is at least minimally readable, but how much curbing is done is the author's choice. I think at the end of the day the important thing is to write something that you want to write, otherwise it will rapidly become an exercise.

    Also, it is always crucial that we bear in mind how much of the authenticity-readability question depends on the readers picking up your books. For example, NorseThing mentioned Hemingway and his style. Now, I recognize that Hemingway is a big deal and an important part of literary canon, but I simply don't like Hemingway (why always so much masculinity?)*. That is no reflection on Hemingway (nor on NorseThing), simply on my tastes and preferences. And part of why I don't like Hemingway is in fact what NorseThing picked out as a virtue; the directness and simplicity. I would much prefer Jules Verne, with pages and pages of detailed descriptions of marine biology, or geography/minerology, or the technical devices that go into making a hot air balloon into a robust navigable aircraft. These things are verbose and seem to not further the plot much, but I learn something in the process and can be more easily immersed in that particular scene. It's just what I like more. All told, I think Callaigh nailed it with a single sentence:
    Quote Originally Posted by Callaigh
    It's more a sliding scale than a binary choice, I think - and different people have different preferences.
    We decide how much authenticity we want, and we make that conscious choice because of what we as authors like write, bearing in mind that that choice will affect what kind of readers we'll pick up.


    *Also, look how long my sentences always seem to be; of course I don't like Hemingway
    Last edited by Kilo11; June 19, 2018 at 04:02 AM.
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  8. #8
    NorseThing's Avatar Primicerius
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Basileos Leandros I View Post
    Ha, good to see that my post garnered reactions

    Indeed, there is a fine line, a middle way if you like, between what's sellable and what's authentic. Original Shakespeare, written in the stilted and not fully developed English of those times is not a pretty read in these days unless you're a literature fan looking for the most authentic experience. Chances are, even if you are a literature fan, the words can sometimes be unintelligible because of the various usage back then. And that's not surprising at all when it comes to making books readable - if your reader doesn't understand it fully, will he continue reading?

    Probably not.

    Hence why the best way is going in between - keep it authentic, make sure everything is correct and even in the dialogue it can reflect some formality.
    Your stilted Shakespeare example had me thinking. Reading is so much different from watching and listening. Watching a well preformed play or a great performance and edit in a movie can bring even the most stilted language to life due to the skills of the artist. Kenneth Branagh brings Shakespeare to life using word for word in such movies as Henry V .

    But then I note that often I am writing at a differing level here on TWC than I would write for an academic journal in days long past. So perhaps Caillagh de Bodemloze's sliding scale is true for many aspect of writing.

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    Caillagh de Bodemloze's Avatar to rede I me delyte
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    The difference between writing for TWC and writing for an academic journal is certainly significant. I think the concept of 'register' might be involved there? "Know your audience" (at least in the sense of knowing what kind of audience you're writing for and their likely expectations) is always good advice, I think.

    And then, as you say, within the broad expectations of your audience, you choose the style that serves you (and them) best. You might feel Hemingway's style is a good choice for the kind of thing you want to write; Kilo11 obviously feels a different style works better for what he wants to say.

    That's more or less how I was thinking of the sliding scale, anyway.






  10. #10
    Basileos Leandros I's Avatar Writing is an art
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    Default Re: Authenticity vs Readability - Opinions?

    Quote Originally Posted by NorseThing View Post
    Your stilted Shakespeare example had me thinking. Reading is so much different from watching and listening. Watching a well preformed play or a great performance and edit in a movie can bring even the most stilted language to life due to the skills of the artist. Kenneth Branagh brings Shakespeare to life using word for word in such movies as Henry V .

    But then I note that often I am writing at a differing level here on TWC than I would write for an academic journal in days long past. So perhaps Caillagh de Bodemloze's sliding scale is true for many aspect of writing.
    But herein lies the difference - a great actor can make even the most stilted dialogue come to life. His expression, his acting, his energy and excitement all bring it to life. It's harder on paper.
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