Poll time!

I am debating a small point of spelling in my copy-edits, brought about by the change in English spelling standards over the centuries*. In this particular case, it is the variation between faerie and fairy (and also faery and fairie, but those are less common and I haven’t messed with them). The possibility on the table is that, as belief in the aforementioned creatures declines, I’ll use the “fairy” spelling when the speaker is talking about them as superstition, and “faerie” when talking about the real thing. But I can’t make up my mind whether I want to do that or not, and so you get a poll.

This will also have relevance for the Victorian book, by which point “fairy” had far surpassed “faerie” as the most commonly-used spelling for the word (and belief had also sharply declined, at least in urban areas).

*This has been an unexpected problem for me, in the Onyx Court books. For example, the general pattern is to spell the surname of the Queen of Scots as Stewart, but the surname of her grandson Charles as Stuart. Etc. And nobody, so far as I’m aware, formally changed the name of Candlewick Street to Cannon Street; it just kind of cruised along being one but occasionally the other until eventually it was the other all the time. Which are issues I didn’t consider when I wrote what I thought was going to be a standalone Elizabethan book.

Edit: So I’m leaning toward deferring the problem. The poll results so far have “pleased” winning by a noticeable margin, but a lot of “confused” votes as well, with a good discussion down in the comments of how this could be resolved by drawing attention to the difference up front. Unfortunately, there’s no graceful way to do that in my narrative as it stands — I’d have to a) horribly interrupt the first relevant scene or b) stick an out-of-narrative note at the front of the book. Neither of which sits well with me. But it doesn’t become a real issue until the Victorian period, when their rampant fairy obsession makes the use of a decidedly non-Victorian form distracting, and so I think for now I’ll stick with my usual spelling. Then, once I start drafting the next book, I’ll see if I can’t build in something that addresses the difference properly.

Edit 2: To give you an idea of why this issue sticks in my brain like a burr — the Onyx Court books are edited to American spelling, except in cases where I’m referencing something British. So ships are in the harbor but Henry Ware got murdered in Coldharbour, and the characters are looking at colors when talking about Newton’s essay “Of Colours.” Despite the fact that the entire thing is in Britain, with British characters. This annoys the snot out of me, but short of strong-arming my publisher into giving me a UK copy-edit (my preference), I can’t do much about it.

0 Responses to “Poll time!”

  1. arkessian

    English spelling still isn’t standardised… viz. the creeping “color” instead of “colour” and “z” instead of “s”. But I would like to see a meaningful distinction between fairy and faerie.

  2. shadowkindrd

    I think the spelling distinction is great. But I think you’ll need to be explicit on the differences, even to the point of almost breaking the 4th wall. It’ll be an added dimension, one that gives the faeries who have interaction on both sides something to scorn and mock. Call attention to it up front and center, let the reader in on the message, and then proceed as planned.

    • gollumgollum

      This. I don’t think it would work without an explanation, up front, and would suggest if you do this you include a prefix on the usage of the words. I think without that, it’ll come across as bad copyediting to all but the most informed/attentive reader.

      (You could also address Stewart/Stuart and Candlewick/Cannon there too, if you wanted.)

      • Marie Brennan

        I explained the Stewart/Stuart and Candlewick/Cannon thing in the Author’s Note for Ashes, because yeah, there was no way to get that across without just saying, outside the narrative, “here’s why this has changed.” I’d like a more graceful solution for this one, though, if I can find such a thing.

        • pathseeker42

          I just finished Ashes this week, and I really appreciated that note at the end – although honestly I can’t say the different spellings/ names hampered my reading at all.

          I can definitely see characters saying “fairy” when they don’t know what they’re talking about, and switching to use faerie for those that do.

          There was something else I was reading recently (I can’t remember what) that did a similar thing with capitals, i.e. “What, you mean trees?” “No. I mean Trees.” In the narrative the characters noted the difference in inflection. The meaning was pretty easy to pick up as a reader.

          • Marie Brennan

            I included the note primarily because of the Berkshire/Oxfordshire thing; it’s not unreasonable to think that a reader might decide to visit the Vale, and I didn’t want them thinking I was an idiot for putting it in the wrong county. Then, since I was already talking about one change over time, I figured I might as well mention the others.

    • mindstalk

      This. I voted Pleased but if you gave us ticky-boxes I’d have voted both Pleased and Confused. I like the tool, e.g. Douglas Hofstadter’s use of ‘you’ and ‘You’ to deal with informal/formal second-person pronouns in translating from French, but you may need to spell out the difference, as he did.

      ETA: said spelling out was in a preface, not slipped into the text.

    • Marie Brennan

      Good suggestion. If I’d considered this issue six months ago, I would have built something into the first relevant scene that allowed me to draw attention to it. Unfortunately, at this point there’s no room for it in the narrative. :-/

  3. sacredchao23

    I like the idea conceptually; however, I think it might get distracting. It also would end up not allowing for ambiguity regarding a characters knowledge of the faeries. I like the idea of shifting the spelling as it generally changes historically, book by book.

    Like I said, interesting, but it would kind of irk me. I’d still read it mind you.

    • skirmish_of_wit

      At risk of setting up an echo chamber, I agree with on all counts.

      I also was wondering if you finished blogging about the Lymond Chronicles? I just emerged from the series and would love to read your thoughts, even though I realize I’m abominably late to the party.

      ETA: Oops, replied to a comment instead of the post. I hate it when I do that. Sorry, .

  4. cloudshaper2k

    Strikes me as a particularly sticky point. I’d need at least some form of explanation, preferably without breaking the 4th wall – perhaps someone in the Court is ranting about it early in the book?

    • Marie Brennan

      See above — no room for it in the scene. But also see my (upcoming) edit to the post.

      • cloudshaper2k

        If there’s no room in the scene, I’d stick with faerie for clarity. You might find room to explain it in the narrative with the Victorian book . . . you might also simply start jumping back and forth and trust the reader to catch the differentiation – particularly if you have a character who doesn’t know about the Court interacting with one who does. The different spellings within their conversation should tip off most fantasy readers.

  5. wadam

    By the Victorian book, it seems like it almost has to be Fairy when people not in the know are talking about it. I’m sure that you know more about it than I, but the prevalence of fairy culture as a fad, and the frequency with which the word was used in print, and the famousness of Lang’s coloured Fairy Books, makes it seem a bit anachronistic otherwise.

    • Marie Brennan

      This is EXACTLY the problem. What looked perfectly natural in an Elizabethan book looks out of place once you’re eyeball-deep in the Victorian fairy obsession. But I’m not sure I have a graceful way to navigate that difference.

  6. diatryma

    It’s a nice touch, I clicked ‘pleased’, but I’m not sure it’s entirely right. In my head, the two are pronounced differently.

  7. stormsdotter

    Good gods, I HATE it when I see something in print that makes me want to look for my pen. I am also terribly annoyed when I see different spellings of the same word unless each spelling has a different meaning.

    If a “fairy” refers to a Small Fae such as a pixie, and a “faerie” refers to any Fae creature, and the author keeps the spelling consistent when talking about one or the other, I’d be mostly okay with it, be would still prefer the author pick one.

    I happen to be using Faerie everywhere in my book, becuase the Fae play a significant role. Of course, “Fae” in my world translates to “any magical non-human sentient,” but I’m spanning several mythos.

    • Marie Brennan

      There would be a different meaning here, but it would be a small one (superstition vs. reality). The issue, as others have mentioned below, is how to signal that clearly enough for the reader.

  8. Marie Brennan

    I’m stuck on the possible twee-ness, too. But see my reply to down below — the different spellings carry a particular freight, not so much in this book, but definitely by the next one. It wouldn’t be an issue if I’d used “fairy” from the start, but I opted to conform with Spenser, because I knew I’d be bringing him up; now that’s come back to bite me on the ass, because of the Victorians.

  9. drydem

    For me, it gets into the verbal-written issue. There is no verbal inflection that differentiates the two terms and given that it will primarily be a differentiation in spoken language (based on you using the phrasing speaker) I say use one spelling.
    It’s the whole, “how did you know it was spelled with an X?” phenomenon that Order of the Stick jokes about.

    • Marie Brennan

      That’s a large part of why I can’t address it gracefully in this particular book — it’s purely an issue of dialogue. But since it’s entirely possible the next book will include references to Victorian fairy texts, it’s more of a relevant question there.

      • drydem

        I think that when you get to the text, then a direct reference to the title or text can be appropriate, but for spoken material, I’d still stick with a spelling.

  10. mrissa

    I don’t know that I would be pleased. I would probably see what you were doing eventually (postulating some alternate universe who didn’t know you and talk to you about these things), but it would probably mildly annoy me along the way, and after I figured it out I’d be more resigned than annoyed, pleased, or confused.

  11. ken_schneyer

    I’m in the camp that reeeeally doesn’t care how it’s spelled, and thinks the whole issue is silly.

  12. malsperanza

    I may be a bit conservative as an editor, but I believe that something this anomalous needs to be explained; otherwise it just looks like an error.

    An explanation wouldn’t need to appear at the first instance; just somewhere along the way, but it might be hard to slip it in in such a way as not to look like a great big blob of exposition. My immediate impulse is to say that the payoff would not be worth the confusion. Or, put it another way: If your book was full of word games and meaningful tricks with spellings, then this one would be part of an ensemble, and would make sense. If you meticulously used two sets of spellings to indicate a shift in period or perspective, that would be awsum. But doing it only with one pair of spellings looks a bit random.

    How about proposing a mid-Atlantic editorial style to your editor? Colour, favour, travelled not traveled–UK for things that no one will have trouble accepting in the US; but tire not tyre, eraser not rubber, etc.?

    • Marie Brennan

      How about proposing a mid-Atlantic editorial style to your editor? Colour, favour, travelled not traveled–UK for things that no one will have trouble accepting in the US; but tire not tyre, eraser not rubber, etc.?

      No can do. The point is that the copy-editor has their style guide, and they’re going to go through the ms and alter any spelling that doesn’t conform to said guide, whether it’s UK, legitimate US variant, or a typo. I’d have to stet every. single. instance. where I want UK spellings kept. (And that assumes I’d get them all right on my own, which I probably wouldn’t.) I’ve stuck hard to “leapt” instead of “leaped” and a few other examples of me and the style guide not matching, but mostly I have to let it go.

      The funny thing about these being historicals is, tyres and rubbers don’t even figure into it. 🙂

  13. mindstalk

    Can you replace faerie with fae or fey, for a bigger and pronouncable difference? Fairy as the diminutive superstition, fae for the pissed off buggers who’ll curse your ass.

  14. akashiver

    I really like the idea, but I’d have to see this in action to tell whether I found it a nice touch or an unnecessary distraction. I’d vote for deferring this decision until you’re actually working on the relevant book.

  15. janni

    It would depend how clear it was to me that it was deliberate, but I’d be inclined to like it.

    Although I’m reminded of the grey/gray distinction — so many people have a clear idea of how the two are different, but what readers actually picture for the two words varies from one to the next, sometimes in contradictory ways, and many others don’t see a distinction at all — to the point I decided that whatever I may be seeing in those words, I had no chance of conveying it to the reader, so I might as well just be consistent.

    To my mind faerie/fairy differ more than that (the former harkens to the oft-dark creatures out of balladland, the latter to fairy tales and winged fairies photographed by Victorians, with shading in between) — but I don’t know if that’s just me, or is the result of assumptions others share.

    • janni

      I have had several readers joke that I chose “faerie” in my book simply because that’s how the cool kids spell it — you can make of that data point what you will.

      Even so, I couldn’t see calling it Bones of Fairy. Because, well, they’re not fairies. They’re faeries. Or fey folk.

      Maybe it’s all a matter of what hills you’re willing to die on? 🙂

      Actually, how do you spell the land that fairies or faeries come from, and does that change over time, too?

      • Marie Brennan

        The land itself has been Faerie, and that isn’t likely to change. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Fairy used on its own as a toponym — Fairyland, yes; Fairy, no.

        I surrendered (and shouldn’t have) to “gray” in Midnight, and have grudgingly let my CEs have their way on that word ever since, because I like consistency. But I am firmly in the “grey” spelling camp, even though yeah, in my mind, they’re slightly different colors.

  16. coraa

    In a meta sense, I like it a lot. In a book, I’m afraid I might not notice what you were doing, and so I’d be confused as to why the spelling kept changing. (I tend to read quickly and lightly, and go back for depth on a reread.)

  17. wyld_dandelyon

    I like the distinction, though I’m used to different spellings for different meanings in magick for mystical stuff and magic for stage magic.

    A preface, whether a note from author to reader or an actual story-bit, sounds like it will fit. That or something in the way of quotes from books in chapter heads, are the most seamless ways I can think of to do it. Quotes from books, since books are important to the text later, if not now, might be a good way to add color as well as to highlight the distinction in meaning.

    If you do use both spellings, however, be sure to give your editor (and copyeditors) a heads’-up so they don’t mess it up on you.

    I’m reminded of Madeline L’Engle’s distinctions between Mr. and Mrs. for humans and Mrs for the angels; she had early editions of A Wrinkle In Time with periods after all titles. Then, an editor who heard her distress did a subsequent edition with no periods after any of said titles.

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