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2012 Reads > TIG: A word about language...

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P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments Much ado has been made about what a great stylist Kay is in this novel, to the point where some people who claim not to really see much merit or originality in the story itself are still being swept along by Kay's "mastery" of the language.

I am a wee touch unconvinced.

Submitted, exhibit A: one paragraph, in toto, from the first page of chapter one:

"Too ruch an opportunity," the rash newcomer explained, cradling a steaming mug of khav laced with one of the dozen or so liqueurs that lined the shelves behind the bar of the Paelion. "Brandin will be incapable of letting slip a chance like this to remind Alberico -- and the rest of us -- that though the two of them have divided our peninsula the shar of art and learning is quite tilted west towards Chiara. Mark my words - and wager who will - we'll have a knottily rhymed verse from stout Doarde or some silly acrostic thing of Camena's to puzzle out, with Sandre spelled six ways and backwards, before the music stops in Astibar three days from now."

The sins of this passage are many. In the first place, it's full of exactly the type of heavy-handed exposition that even beginning writers are taught to avoid. Why must this (as yet unnamed) musician remind his listeners that the two wizards (and we do get their names, I guess in case someone in the bar had forgotten) have divvied up the land? Why refer to it as "our" peninsula, as though there might be some other peninsula around here someplace? Why are we told "three days from now?" Would the people in the bar honestly not know? It would be like me walking into a room and loudly declaring that "our President, Mr. Barack Obama, has been speaking with his Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, wife of William J. Clinton the former President, in the White House which happens to be located in Washington, District of Columbia, which is on the eastern seashore of our United States." It's clumsy.

Item two: why, in an introductory passage like this, if you're going to hit us with exposition, shower us with the number of proper names which show up in this paragraph? Parodies of Speculative Fiction mock this sort of silliness all the time, and with good reason. No wonder so many people were lost during this novel's opening scenes...can't tell the players without a program, and even then, some of them won't be important for another four or five chapters.

Third, and this is to my mind the most grievous sin: consider the word "khav." I read a scathing criticism of Anne McCaffrey a few years ago (in Analog?) which just blasted the woman for the invention of "klah." If you are going to put something truly otherworldly in your sff novel, by all means, name it whatever the hell you want. But if your characters are drinking a beverage that looks, tastes, and functions in their culture like coffee...just call it coffee!!! It's not like you needed a new word for "table" or "chair." Why would you think you needed a new one for the hot drink of the morning, or in this case the alchohol-laced afternoon? It's not succeeding in "putting me into a different fantasy universe." It's distracting, annoying, and juvenile, like your secret special club made up a new code word for girl cooties. Get over yourself and just let the story tell itself, and stop making your language get in the way.


Javier Quintana (javier_quintana) | 43 comments English is not my first language, and this is the first book I intend to read in English, so I'm not used to it, and I can't really make a comparison. I'm saying that because it's likely that what I'm going to say is wrong.

Because of that, I had to look up lots of words in the dictionary (I thank the Triad for the built-in dictionaries in ebook readers, by the way). But, as the chapters passed, I noticed that I had to look up less and less words.

That made me think that maybe the wordy and convoluted style of writing is totally intentional, used maybe as an instrument of pacing by the author. I had to pause and reread paragraphs a lot during the first two chapters, but afterwards, pages started to fly, except in the beginning of Chapter four, when again I had a hard time, when a character was reminiscing and explaining politics again.

So maybe Kay wants us to read those parts slowly, because they matter to the lighter and faster parts afterwards, which seem to be more exciting in contrast.

As I said, take this with a grain of salt or even the whole shaker.


message 3: by Nimrod (last edited Jun 05, 2012 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nimrod God (nimrodgod) | 273 comments Kay used many words that were based on older 16th century English... "quaffed" for instance or "largesse" whose origin is from Middle English from Old French which in turn is from Latin "largus".

The fact that the words he chose were words that would have likely been spoken in older Renaissance times and that he skilfully placed them with enough context to make the reader understand what he meant, shows his mastery of the language.

Making up alternative words adds to this because a world that would have progressed differently than our own, would likely not call the drinks the same thing...

On the whole introduction to the wizards... We don't have two president's do we? I'm not sure how nit picking a character's way of speaking is reflective on the author itself... What about when a character does not speak eloquently at all? does that mean the author has no idea what he is doing?


Linguana | 148 comments I agree that it's more difficult than your avarage (fantasy) novel. English is also my second language but I've been reading books in English for over a decade now and I'm too lazy to look stuff up. *shame* I usually figure an unknown word out by context eventually. :)

The style as such is difficult but I think it goes with the theme and setting of the story. The dialogues feel quite natural to me, it's just the descriptions (especially that first chapter) that tend to go a little overbaord.

As for the klah/khav: I actually like that it isn't called coffee. It gives us as readers a little something to figure out and lends the novel an otherworldly atmosphere. But I guess it's purely a matter of taste. I think I'd even dislike it if Kay called coffee coffee.


Nimrod God (nimrodgod) | 273 comments Another Note... Italian is a Romantic language... It's wordy as all hell... (granted I have more experience with Spanish, which again is a Romantic and very friggen wordy language)...

I felt that if anything Kay, brought the Romanticism in Italian to English... Yes it's wordy, but why do we have to make everything about being fast and efficient?

It's basically "Fast Food" vs "Gourmet Food"...

One is fast and cheap, the other is More Elegant and expensive... but in the end... which are you happiest with?

(I haven't eaten fast food in over 3 years, so guess which one I pick...)


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments Let me be clear: I am not in any way intimidated by Kay's use of somewhat abstruse English words like "quaffed" or "largesse." You'll notice I didn't suggest up there in the godawfullwalloftext that I think his problem is the complexity of his language.

The problem is, as Javier's occasional reactions suggest, the pacing of that language, the speed with which information is conveyed. If you have to hammer your audience over the head with *nine* neologisms in an introductory paragraph in order to drag them, kicking and screaming, into your fantasy universe, you're doing something wrong.


message 7: by Vance (last edited Jun 05, 2012 12:04PM) (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments Another factor is that Kay spent a lot of time with Christopher Tolkien working on his father's posthumous works, if I remember correctly. Tolkien wrote in a very "high" style and I believe that, at times, Kay emulates that. This is light fare compared to the Silmarillion! :0)


message 8: by Javier (last edited Jun 05, 2012 01:30PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Javier Quintana (javier_quintana) | 43 comments It's funny, I have to look up the neologisms too, because I can't tell if they are actually English or not.

And when I google those words, I find pirate websites with the whole text of the book, but that's another story and shall be told another time.


message 9: by Nimrod (last edited Jun 05, 2012 12:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nimrod God (nimrodgod) | 273 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Let me be clear: I am not in any way intimidated by Kay's use of somewhat abstruse English words like "quaffed" or "largesse." You'll notice I didn't suggest up there in the godawfullwalloftext that I think his problem is the complexity of his language."

I did not say you were intimidated by it, I said that, in answer to your comment about Kay's Mastery (or lack of) the language, your points seem to suggest that wordy means you don't know the language...

My point was to say that in my opinion and my agreeing with those who say his book was written masterfully are based on his use of the words he chose, not on how many words he chose...

I used my examples because they were the first to come to me in my point about how he specifically used 16th century words which is the same time we call the Renaissance...


Linguana | 148 comments I was one of those somewhat put off by the first chapter - not because of the language but because of the information overload that didn't make any sense to me (yet).

I think that chapter 4 (or was it even chapter 3?) justifies the initial confusion. That moment when the light bulb turned on over my head was actually very enjoyable and I was surprised that I remembered a lot from confusing chapter 1 that made sense to me later. Authors should be allowed to do that, to challenge their readers a little. The pay-off was worth it for me, at least.


David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments @P.Aaron - You remind me of an English teacher who helped me in my own foray into self publishing. She was scathing. But it was often the case where she would leave passages as they were even though everything she knew was screaming to condense and cut and correct.
"It just changes the whole feel of it if I edit it here," she would say. And she was insistent that I check her editing to make sure she wasn't ripping the soul out of the text.

I'm quite certain, especially in the first chapter, that Kay could have been more concise - but I'm not sure he could have done it and maintained the soul and feel of the text. I didn't like the first chapter first read round - but on the re read I actually enjoyed it.

I don't think he would have got away with "coffee" as opposed to khav. That would have just wrecked the feel of the book. I also got the impression that khav was alcoholic as a rule - probably from the first chapter - you could probably argue then why call it "laced" khav as opposed to "non laced" khav?

I guess what I'm trying to say is I think over editing can be mistake. But I'm also reading Steven Erikson who needs a serious dose of editing where convoluted passages are the rule rather than exception.


Javier Quintana (javier_quintana) | 43 comments And the obvious "What if it is not coffee after all?". Because, as far as I have read, it could be coffee, but it could be another drink entirely. Khav sounds like Java, but that's all.

If in a future chapter it's actually described as brown beans grinded and filtered with hot water or something to that effect, then ignore this comment.


Michal (michaltheassistantpigkeeper) | 294 comments In Polish, coffee is Kawa (pronounced Kava), so I never had a problem figuring out what khav was...


message 14: by Scott (new)

Scott Allen According to Robert Kernen in Building Better Plots, "Exposition can be one of the most effective ways of creating and increasing the drama in your story. It can also be the quickest way to kill a plot's momentum and get your story bogged down in detail. Too much exposition, or too much at one time, can seriously derail a story and be frustrating to the reader or viewer eager for a story to either get moving or move on," (Kernen, 57).

I agree with Kernen and with P. Aaron. I am experiencing a difficult slog through this book. I feel derailed at times, confused. You can argue that the man has a master over the language, but I'm not reading Tigana to just revel in language, I want story too. I am sticking with it (in the middle of chapter 8), but I am certainly considering putting the book down.


message 15: by Sky (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sky Corbelli | 352 comments I have to say, I'm agreeing here as well. I think the 8 paragraphs detailing the events surrounding (view spoiler) display this nicely. The amount of exposition stole the impact from the moment.


message 16: by Vance (last edited Jun 05, 2012 08:06PM) (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments What I posted else where is equally appropriate here:

I think this is simply a matter of prefering one writing style over another, rather than an example of violating an objectively correct style. One persons "wordy" is another's "rich and poetic". I, for one, love the Silmarillion, for example.

What is ironic, however, is that I believed that my own taste had changed and I no longer had the patience for this style. But I fully enjoyed letting the flowing descriptions wash over me.


Shannon | 8 comments I had no problem with the "Our Peninsula" at all. I think it made perfect sense that a group of recently (less than 25 years ago counts as recently) invaded peoples would refer to it as "theirs," simply as a quiet reminder that it belongs to *them* not the usurpers. It made perfect sense for me in context (especially once we got more back story on the musician and what his goals were).

I actually loved all the little details and exposition filled world-building. I agree that it is a matter of preference for a certain style and not "good" or "bad" writing. I felt like it was wordy and exposition filled, but at some point every single detail came full circle in the story. I actually thought it was a tightly told story, where every detail ultimately mattered/added something (with the exception of some of the sexual content - I understood what the author was trying to do with them, but still wished they weren't there).


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Nimrod wrote: "Another Note... Italian is a Romantic language... It's wordy as all hell... (granted I have more experience with Spanish, which again is a Romantic and very friggen wordy language)..."

There's something to that. I have a couple of Renaissance-era Italian books like The Prince and Book of the Courtier; they are written in wordy, run-on sentences.

Darren wrote: "Our Peninsula" - The inhabitants of the Palm are very aware that they live in a wider world. They also think of themselves in a very insular (almost insular? Oh, the puns...) manner, despite being separate "realms/duchies/provinces" rather than truly united."

Remind me--is it one of the protagonists who's making this speech? It would make sense that they want to stress unity between the inhabitants of the Palm rather than maintain the parochialism that contributed to their defeat.


message 19: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments So glad I'm sitting this one out.


message 20: by Vance (last edited Jun 07, 2012 08:42AM) (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments And even with such debates about the use, overuse, or even abuse of different writing styles, I would have to say this may be the Club book I most enjoyed reading.

And I have yet to hear a person say that they read the book and wish they hadn't, or even any that lemmed it.


Travis | 17 comments Darren wrote: "P. Aaron wrote: "Much ado has been made about what a great stylist Kay is in this novel, to the point where some people who claim not to really see much merit or originality in the story itself are..."

I agree whole heartily with Darren here. So far I am 30% through the book and am enjoying it immensely. I have read a great deal in my life, Tolkien, Shakespeare, Homer, and even cheesy Star Wars and Star Trek novels (a guilty pleasure). So far from what I've read of Tigana, my first Kay novel, I feel he is one of the better authors that I've read.


Nimrod God (nimrodgod) | 273 comments Travis wrote: "...my first Kay novel, I feel he is one of the better authors that I've read. "

Ditto


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments Oh, I'm enjoying Tigana well enough...I'm just doing so in spite of Kay's language, not because of it.


message 24: by Charles (last edited Jun 09, 2012 08:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Charles (candrews) | 60 comments P. Aaron wrote: "...It would be like me walking into a room and loudly declaring that "our President, Mr. Barack Obama, has been speaking with his Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, wife of William J. Clinton the former President, in the White House which happens to be located in Washington, District of Columbia, which is on the eastern seashore of our United States." It's clumsy."

And yet this is precisely how someone, of the period Kay is trying to emulate, would speak. Read Austen's Pride and Prejudice for example (which has some of the most wonderfully worded verbal conflicts I have ever read!). There is less such embellishment in modern speech simply because the haste of modern life has caused our speech to be trimmed to suit. In older times, one would go to an inn for a drink in the evening and would relish the embellishments that people would add to their speech. It was entertainment.


message 25: by Vance (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments what I find interesting is that I am listening to the audio book and find none of this wordiness at all. It all flows extremely well never seems overwrought. In fact, when spoken aloud, the text has an interesting combination of poetry and immediacy. It fully draws you in to a very rich world without getting bogged down.

I wonder if I would feel the same if I was reading it again and not listening.


message 26: by Stefan (last edited Jun 09, 2012 09:55PM) (new)

Stefan | 14 comments I've read Kay before and I'm somewhat accustomed to his style. As opposed to George R. R. Martin who likes his language to represent the ugliness of his world, Kay's flowery speech generally brings a romantic quality to his creations. He's certainly a more literary fantasy writer.

I admit that the beginning of this novel was a little awkward when being introduced to this world and I found Kay's language to make the book difficult to get into. But, so far the more I've read, the more engrossed I've become in the story. Now that I'm about 150 pages in. His writing, to me, has become less noticeable and the story is really shining through.


message 27: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Marion | 7 comments I found it took a little getting used to when compared to the other books I've ready recently, but as the book progresses it all flows together very well. The "inflation" or whatever you want to call it is contextualized well, and is used largely when it makes sense. No one is rambling on at length when they're in immediate danger.


message 28: by Krista (new) - added it

Krista | 5 comments I've seen this sentiment echoed over and over - it was very difficult to get into this book, but now that I am a few chapters in, I'm really enjoying the story. That being said, I don't feel that the style of writing is flowery, or wordy, to me it started off as, quite simply, pretentious. I'm really glad that I stuck with it though. I don't find that there is too much detail, as with Tolkien, just that the first couple of chapter seemed like the author was "trying to hard" in his use of language. At this point, I'm not sure if I've just gotten used to what I consider a pretentious writing style, or if it is actually tonned town in later chapters, either way, it is, so far, a great read once you get into it.


message 29: by David Sven (last edited Jun 11, 2012 02:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Sven (gorro) | 1582 comments Krista wrote: "I'm not sure if I've just gotten used to what I consider a pretentious writing style, or if it is actually tonned town in later chapters, either way, it is, so far, a great read once you get into it. "

I think when the story is told from the narrator's POV it is deliberately "extra" flowery as a stylistic device - like a play.

Chapter 1 had a big chunk of narration and it threw me at first as well especially after a smooth prologue. And then Chapter 2 we are back to mainly character POVs and it was smooth sailing. The re read of Chapter 1 after I finished was easy for me actually because I didn't have the extra baggage of not knowing place names or political situations.


Chris (mrwednesday) | 23 comments The way I tend to think about the dialogue in the first chapter is also to consider that it is coming from the POV of a poet/bard. It seems like his speech should naturally be a little extra showy or verbose. It was difficult for me to follow as well, but I think it had more to do with my own attention and comprehension than the words themselves. Much of the rest of the book has flowed nicely for me.

I have absolutely no problem with fantasy novelists creating their own words for everyday things, especially if it's somewhat unique. If he had a different name for a table or a chair that would be one thing. While coffee is incredibly common and popular now, it hasn't always been as common or popular, and although coffee is now technically a word in English (I believe), it certainly didn't originate in English.


message 31: by Tara (new) - added it

Tara "In the first place, it's full of exactly the type of heavy-handed exposition that even beginning writers are taught to avoid."

At least, what authors are taught to avoid /now/. It should probably be taken into consideration that TIGANA was written over twenty years ago and that the stylistic and narrative choices that editors support in publication do change over the years. Which is not to say that the preferences on exposition changing hasn't been for good reasons, just that I remember many more books from that time frame and earlier being much more free with the exposition than more modern books have been.


message 32: by Chaz (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chaz | 32 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Oh, I'm enjoying Tigana well enough...I'm just doing so in spite of Kay's language, not because of it."

This.


message 33: by terpkristin (new) - added it

terpkristin | 4204 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Oh, I'm enjoying Tigana well enough...I'm just doing so in spite of Kay's language, not because of it."

I'm not to the point of "enjoying" it yet, but I will say I find Kay's language overly flowery and distracting. It's not "difficult," but I don't think his choice of words/language adds anything but pretentiousness.


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments I'm going to be completely perverse now.

No,not "perverted," you...pervs.

Anyhoo: I've finished the novel, and liked it well enough. I think its strength lies where Tom pegged it: while at first this looks like a straight-up novel about a revolution against a Big Bad Evil, by the end the question of whether the revolution was justified, or whether the Big Bad was all that Evil, makes for some solid pondering.

Here's the perverse bit: by about halfway through the novel, I found Kay had flip-flopped, and now was *too rushed*. We discovered months had gone by, and important events had transpired, only as characters referred to these events in passing, as history. The heavy hand of exposition was still present, but with the opposite pacing problem Kay faced in part one.

Sorry, Veronica. I'm so sorry.


message 35: by Vance (new) - added it

Vance | 362 comments I would not apologize for failing to love the book! :0)

My thinking is that when you have thousands of people reading a book, you are about to have many who don't like it. If we ALL happened to love the same book, I would think something odd had happened to the universe . . .


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2522 comments terpkristin wrote: "I'm not to the point of "enjoying" it yet, but I will say I find Kay's language overly flowery and distracting. It's not "difficult," but I don't think his choice of words/language adds anything but pretentiousness. "

Exactly my thoughts. If I had to use one word to sum up Kay's writing, pretentious would be it.


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