Alder tree art by meConvincing writing is, as many have pointed out, in the details. And when you’re talking fantasy, science-fiction, cyberpunk, or steampunk, it’s even more important.

You don’t feel transported into another world if people do the same things they do here, unless you’re gung-ho about some sort of detail-by-detail allegory. While I do believe writers’ individual hopes and dreams do tend to bleed into their works, I don’t think novels on a “this-for-that” basis work too well.

So here’s one of the things I’ve been facing. My novel takes place in a world like our own, but not our own. It’s like Victorian England and North America, but it’s not. String theory and alternate worlds aside, this is often more difficult than it sounds. The creativity dial of cultural uniquity goes to eleven, you see, but if I turn it up the entire way, there’s always the risk of alienating the only people who will ever read it: the ones in this very world.

Because I have some Western inspirations in my book, I’ve had to consider swears a great deal. (As a funny little aside, I wrote my first few novels about Billy the Kid, and my own hero: Destiny Desert. When my dad stumbled on to my half-written manuscript and discovered I’d used a host of swears he thought were much too crass for my twelve-year old self, he was rather upset. I forgot what the stakes were, but they were quite high, and prompted me to write a three-page defense about the historical validity of said cowboys using swear words… I couldn’t very well dispute history, now could I?) But I don’t necessarily want them to use the same swears that are in our world… some writers, like Greg Keyes do a great job of this (scaet, which I love). Heck, even Battlestar Galactica does a fabulous job of this (frack!).

But, it can come off very badly. Fricatives are such that they often mean bad things, not because they were designed that way, but because they sound that way.  So why mess with it too much?

Ah, I just don’t know. Some authors pull from the real world, delving into medieval and Renaissance language to come up with alternatives. Others go way out there, and pull from their own universe. I guess there’s something to say for calling it like it is…

I suppose I still have some thinking to do.