Character depth
November 11, 2017
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Proper Nouns

Hi guys.

It’s amazing how much can be implied with a single word. I am reading an old series by Robert Jordan who did The Wheel of Time. In the fourth book, I happened upon an offhand thought that one of the characters made about another character. The character actually commented on the other’s makeup. She thought “she is even wearing rouge,” now normally a comment like this wouldn’t be too bad, however when you are building a world of your own the smallest details can become great problems. 

Having rouge in the story itself is not a problem. The problem is the word. The word is French, the only reason why it’s in English is because of the uniqueness of the English Language.
In 1066 William the Conqueror defeated Ethelred in the battle of Hastings, but William the First took the English throne, the nobles spoke French thus adding a large number of French words to the English vocabulary. This didn’t happen over night but this blending allowed more things to enter into the English vocabulary. So when Rouge was invented in France, the English kept the name and just referred to it as the French did.

When writing on an alien world, you need to be careful with the words you use especially proper nouns. Proper nouns have a shared history of the word and if you want a world that is distinct from what the world we are living the more alien it will need to be.

There are writers that get around this like Tolkien, who said that his whole story was ‘translated into English’ for us to read. I think that is an excellent way of keeping the story alive and allowing the use of proper nouns that would normally not be in use in the world system you have created.

I am not sure if Robert Jordan had the same idea, but I bring this word up because of the extra attention he had put into making sure that the his world was distinct from our world. He event went to the trouble of calling some very familiar things different names to further separate his world from ours.

Keep reading,

Peter.

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