Sunday, June 06, 2004

Distracting Fiction

Penelope J. Stokes quotes the author of a well-known book on writing when he says fiction should be a "vivid and continuous dream." I agree with that statement. The worst books are those that constantly jog your attention from the story. As a book reviewer, I have to analyze all types of fiction from bestsellers to self-published. One fault self-published books nearly always have is lack of this vivid, continuous dream.

Another book I've read recently, Perpetua, had great potential to cause distraction. It's set about 200 A.D. in Carthage, and dozens of terms, familiar to the 2nd century narrator, would confuse most modern-day readers. Writing definitions within the text would turn fiction in a Roman Empire vocabulary lesson, and a full glossary at the end would be a pain to wade through. The author's solution? She mentioned most of the items by a "neutral" contemporary term (such as dining room, house) within a paragraph or two, then included a footnote definition at the end of the chapter. The method, while a bit cumbersome, added a sense of exploration, like learning the code of a secret club.


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