Monday, 24 October 2011

Snuff Said

Detritus the Troll - an excellent miniature
based on a design by Paul Kidby
Available here.

A few days ago Terry Pratchett was interviewed on BBC Breakfast about his new Discworld novel, Snuff, which I've just started reading. As fans will be well aware, Pratchett suffers from a form of Alzheimer's and is progressively less able to use a standard keyboard when writing his books. He now uses a mixture of dictation software and a human assistant to get his words onto the page.     

Alongside Snuff I'm reading the Dark Eldar codex, which was written by the rather verbose Phil Kelly - I don't mean that pejoratively, only that he has, in some senses at least, an extremely good grasp of the English language, and writes and talks with an extensive vocabulary. Pratchett, of course, is a master craftsman of language, so it is interesting to see how the change in the production method for his prose has influenced his storytelling. A handful of pages in, I would say it has actually strengthened it.  

Although a codex is not a novel, it does have some narrative elements - 'the fluff' - so it has been impossible for me to escape from a comparison of the two writing styles. This has re-enforced a longstanding issue that I have with the in-house writing at GW. While their writers are obviously intelligent and highly skilled in many respects, for me they fall down on a very basic issue of language use; that is, they tend to use flourishes with abandon, which leads to stylistic-overkill.

Let me outline one example: "Commorragh is no mere metropolis, for it is to the largest of Imperial hives as a soaring mountain is to a mound of termites" (Dark Eldar codex, p.8).

Now, nothing technically wrong with that sentence, but try reading it aloud. Do employees of GW really speak like this? Of course, the written word is somewhat different to the spoken, but as the Pratchett example shows, the difference shouldn't be so great. Perhaps there is something in the house-style at GW that favours anachronisms: there's a phrase in the 8th edition rulebook for Warhammer that reads something like "...a goodly amount of the evening".     

I just wish that the GW writers would sit down (like all good undergraduate students should) and read their work out loud. Then they might realise how ridiculous some of it sounds, and calm it down a little. 

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