Victoria A. Jeffrey's authorly doings. . .

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Creative License

I was reading a review on a retail site for a historical novel and the review was generally positive but the reader had very serious issues with the historical details in the book. In other words, the creative license the writer took went over the line in the opinion of this particular reader.

So, creative license. When is it too much? Or is it ever too much? When writing genres such as science fiction or fantasy I think one can get away with an outrageous amount because the nature of those genres are such that many things are open to the imagination. You are dealing with things that don't exist so you have more leeway. When it comes to historical fiction, another genre I love to read, I don't think you have as much license because the setting is history, which can be researched and verified by others. Especially when you encounter a reader of the genre that is either somewhat or very knowledgable about the time period you are writing about.

This brings me to an example I recently found in my most recent book. It's a kid's book so there are a host of things one must tread carefully with. Now to be honest, I really wonder if this is true creative license because this was a mistake that I just realized I made. It involves the different words for "bathroom". Now, in the book I used the word "privy". Just yesterday it ocurred to me that a privy, at least the definition I am using, is an outhouse - a bathroom that stands unattached and outside of the main house or main building. The bathrooms in the story, technically, are not privies, as they are inside the fortress.

So, I have a bit of a dilemma. I have thought of using the word "toilet" or "latrine". Latrine is an older word, I believe, that children may not be familiar with. I'm not opposed to looking up words while reading if you don't know them. That's how you expand your vocabulary. However, not all readers appreciate having to do this. Also, latrine seems to me to be a cruder, rougher word. George R. R Martin uses this word in his ASoIaF series and those books ain't for kids! Then I thought about using the word "toilet" but this word sounds too modern for the story, I think. The story is set in modern times but the children go to a fantasy world that is anything but modern. In this world it seems to me that the word "toilet" is inappropriate. So what does one do? Should I keep "privy" even though it is technically inaccurate and claim creative license or is it even true creative license? Should I use a more accurate word even if it seems strange to me? Things to think about.


ladyofrohan said...

Sorry, but the medieval historian and etymology fan simply could not be squashed :)

The (indoors or outdoors) meaning of "privy" dates to the 13th century, so it would be a valid word either way.

You could also try "garderobe" or "close stool," but those would probably just make things more confusing.

"Privy" in British English tends to mean an interior non-plumbed toilet, whereas in American English it tends to mean an outhouse.

Er. Yes. Feel free to ignore all this. I will just wander away and shut up now.

Victoria A. Jeffrey said...

Thank you ladyofrohan for commenting. This is new information and I find it valuable.

>>"Privy" in British English tends to mean an interior non-plumbed toilet, whereas in American English it tends to mean an outhouse.<<

I didn't realize that perhaps privy may have been the word I needed to use all along. :)