When writing in a setting that is very much Not Our Own, how do you deal with words and phrases that are specifically tied to to our world and its history?
I’m thinking mostly of fantasy worlds (LotR, AtLA, Pokémon) and sci-fi ones that aren’t supposed to be part of Earth’s future (BSG, Star Wars), although the same question can easily come up in historical fiction, too.
Would you write about one of Arwen’s chairs coming with an ottoman, or Gaius Baltar having an Adam’s apple? Would you find a synonym for the term, or try to work around it? Does it make a difference if it’s only in the third-person narration, as opposed to the thoughts/speech of an actual character?
How about phrases that any character could conceivably come up with, but that we recognize as literary allusions? Princess Leia walking in the valley of the shadow of death, for instance. There’s no way to come up with a wholly original phrase that will carry the same weight for readers, even though her galaxy has never seen a King James Bible. Is that a reason to be more lenient?
Discworld does a pretty good job of coming up with its own equivalents for things in our world, and referencing them to similar effect, with the result that it comes off as self-contained, richly detailed, and comfortably familiar, all at once. But that kind of equivalence takes time and investment to construct, which is hard to pull off, especially if you’re writing a short fic and the canon hasn’t already given you something to work with.
One of the quickest and most elegant examples I can think of is in Caprica, which tossed off a quick line about how “polls find that many college students are getting their news from comedian Baxter Sarno.” And now I want to know what Caprican Backtalk With Baxter Sarno RPF looks like. Actually, scratch that, I want stories about Caprican fans putting together illegal mods of their favorite characters and turning them loose in V-World. I bet they have a lot more fangirls into machinima…
Back on topic! Do your standards when reading this sort of thing compare to your standards when writing it? How big a disconnect does there have to be to throw you out of the story? How much does the silliness of the source, and/or the fic, factor in? I’m sure nobody would bat an eye at Team Rocket bursting out with “we’re not in Kansas anymore!” So how cracky would the fic have to be before you would tolerate hearing it from Frodo?
(This slew of questions brought to you by the sudden realization that I tried to use the phrase “lost her train of thought” for a character in a pre-industrial setting, and the unexpected philosophical crisis that followed.)