Conventions

I decided today to tackle a subject that is a matter of some debate: conventions.

And no, I’m not talking about the conventions where people congregate at a central point dressed up in costumes, or meet to enjoy the company of a like-minded crowd.

I’m talking about a normal example.

To explain what I’m talking about, I will give an example: I’m quite sure we have all read a sci-fi or fantasy book where someone decided to call coffee by another name. Caf or Kaf are commonly used to make coffee suddenly become the subject of a sci-fi or fantasy novel. As if changing the name of it changes the substance of the material. “It’s space coffee now man!”

The main argument for this practice is immersion. Many authors believe that in order to make their novel more gripping, that when something occurs on another world, the names of everything we know need to be changed to reflect this.

This is not an untrue point of view. If it is another world, logically nothing would be the same.

But extending the logical point, there wouldn’t be any humans either. Authors sometimes explain the presence of humans, sometimes they don’t. If the story is good enough, it isn’t critical.

Then there is my own point of view: if it is essentially coffee, why change the name? What is the point? I have had this discussion with a few people, and they generally say: “But, immersion man!”
I generally say: “I’m not going to be the one-thousandth author to call coffee caf.”

That being said, sometimes there is a point to changing the name. A good example is the Shadowrun universe, set in the dark future of earth. Coffee is so rare that a single cup would cost crazy amounts of money (if it could even be found), so they have what they call “Soy-caf”. This development is a part of the world built for Shadowrun, and is necessary for the reader to be aware of at all times. This is not a gratuitous replacement of a word to turn coffee into “space coffee”. There is actually a point to it, which I completely agree with.

Then you have the flip-side though: where people change the names of everything in order to reinforce their world. And I mean everything: from coffee, to rats, dogs, cats, the days of the week, months, all of it. I do have to give those authors a round of applause. It is quite a monumental undertaking, not one for the faint of heart.

I have read a few book series this kind of monumental undertaking has occurred in. It definitely does have the effect of reminding me continuously “I’m not in Texas anymore!” But little more than that. I find myself often when one of the new conventions comes into play, that I have to stop and think; “What the heck was that again?” until I grow accustomed to that thing.

Which completely destroys my immersion, defeating the entire point of undertaking the monumental task in the first place.

This affects accessibility. The ease with which a reader can just start reading and enjoying the story.

I have decided for myself that I will not rename anything that doesn’t function differently. Including the months, and days of the week. If the creature is a quadraped that eats garbage, carrion, and carries disease, I will call it a rat, because that is what it is. When I create something unique, it will be because it does not already exist, drastically reducing the amount of things people have to remember in order to enjoy the story.

If I ever have a reason to discuss the constellations, I feel I will have to rename those, because what ancient people saw in the stars was related to their society and experiences, which is significantly different on my world. And of course the patterns of the stars would be different being on a different world and all.

But as a general rule, my idea is to call coffee coffee and leave it at that.

If anyone has any feelings, or points of view they would like to share, feel free!

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2 thoughts on “Conventions”

  1. I think your point about accessibility addresses this topic perfectly. It’s all well and good to be creative and play around with real-world things in a world you’re creating, but it can be jarring. If there are too many of them, your reader will forget. You also don’t want to have to constantly remind the reader of what it is. This is definitely a writer by writer decision, but I am definitely with you on the spectrum. Immerse the reader in the new aspects of your world. Don’t make them adjust to new names for things they’re familiar with. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

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