Saturday, October 19, 2013

Speak English!

Last weekend I went to a writing group for the first time ever. I'm not sure how I felt about it so I won't say much about the experience, yet.

One thing I did find interesting was the animosity these folks had for certain plot devices, namely "speak English".

You know what I'm talking about. That's when the brainiest character in a story lays down some crazy-complicated technical jargon. Then the action-minded main character says, "Speak English." and the brainy character is forced to explain a concept or term. Of course, this is all for the benefit of the reader, who the author assumes doesn't or won't understand. It's used all the time, especially in Sci-Fi (which is usually particularly concept/jargon heavy).

Maybe that's the problem. It's potentially insulting to your reader to assume they won't know what your talking about. And this particular group of readers (the writing group folks) were really smart. I was easily the dumbest person in the room. So maybe they feel it's insulting. I didn't have the balls to ask.

Frankly, I don't have a problem with "Speak English". It's effective. It gets the job done. Just like all things, it should be used in moderation. But the fact is there are sometimes things that need to be explained. I would rather assume that my readers don't understand a concept and explain it than lose my readers completely.

What about you? Is it overused? Is it insulting? Let me know what you think. And please, speak English.

6 comments:

  1. I don't mind the "Speak English" trope, either. I don't think it's insulting for readers at all, since it's the character that needs clarification. I'd honestly be jarred out of a story more if a character did understand all the brainy babble when he normally wouldn't. It seems like authors are just trying to keep the pace from slowing down too much when they let that happen...

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    1. That's a good point. I didn't think of it in terms of pace.

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  2. I guess it could be better to have the main character observe the actions of the 'brainy' one and ask? Maybe have the 'brainy' one need a second pair of hands and therefore have to explain in short-hand? I don't know...good question. :)

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    1. Thanks Raquel, and thanks for following!

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  3. Personally I think it's a necessary plot device and a much better way to get information across than to "info dump" with long winded paragraphs. If you use "Speak English" correctly it'll help your story flow smoother by allowing information to come out naturally through dialogue. That said, you still have to use it correctly. You don't want to have a character ask to have something explained to them that they should already know. I see this every now and then in cop dramas. One FBI agent will ask another FBI agent to explain some law that they should already know. If it's too obvious that the information being told is only for the reader's benefit then it doesn't work. But, say that FBI agent is explaining said law to the perp he's arresting, then the situation makes sense.

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    1. I agree. Plus, I'm constantly asking people to explain what the heck they're talking about so I don't think it's unrealistic. :)

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