Register and Custom

Posted: June 12th, 2012 under Background, Craft, the writing life.
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I really admire Sharon Lee & Steve Miller’s Liaden books, because they handle issues of register and custom so well.  For those not dragged backwards through a linguistics course at some point, “register” refers to the way people speak in reference to social roles.    Most of us learn as children that one mode of speaking is fine with another child–a friend, say–but another is needed to satisfy expectations when talking to a friend of our parents.  That’s register: everything from the choice of words to the tone of voice to the topics considered appropriate…communication changes with social situations.

I was working over some of Editor’s comments yesterday and the day before, and came across a scene where a character changed registers drastically (for a good reason.)   We do that all the time in daily life:  you’re chatting with a friend while eating lunch at a sidewalk cafe–friend-to-friend, casual–and you see someone at the next table suddenly fall out of his chair and lie motionless on the pavement.  You call out for help in a completely different tone than you had just said to your friend “And you wouldn’t believe what that cat did next!”   If you have the experience you may take charge and continue to give orders–the register of command.   When the ambulance shows up, you subside from “I’m in charge for now” into “intelligent bystander” and answer their questions.

Register–when to change, and into what–varies with culture.   I grew up in an area with two main cultures and multiple variants of each….and like most of the kids there, learned how to get along in more than one.    So when I was imagining Paksworld, the various cultures arrived in my head each with its own set of registers, and the rules for using them.   But those rules have been used without explanation…I “hear” the character speaking and write it down, and figure that you readers will grasp (subliminally, possibly) that manners in Fintha aren’t like manners in Tsaia, that the relationship between, say, Kieri and Aliam Halveric are clear even though you haven’t been told what signifies the exact status moment to moment.   Every element of a conversation is intended to convey more about a relationship than is specifically stated–whether it works for a given reader or not.

Since I deliberately left out some this-world usages for nobility and royalty, what Paksworld has does not conform to the usage of any this-world court.  But the degree of difference sometimes bumps into the expectations of unfamiliar readers–copy editors and the like–who want to make it fit the British model or the Chicago Manual of Style model.  Neither fits.    Some of the characters are expert in managing communication, formal in speech. Some are blunt, but with no intent to be discourteous (and in their own culture, they’re not.)

I’ve been trying, for the past several books, to figure out how to make it easier for editors and copy editors to work with my books, (and readers, perhaps, to understand them better) but it’s complicated.  I almost need to write out complete etiquette manuals, anthropological treatises, etc.    And that’s a lot of work…a lot of work that, if put in the actual books…would be so much infodump.   I could simplify further, but then I’d lose the nuances that please me–that I enjoy.

So–if anyone’s interested–if this is the kind of thing that intrigues you–have any of you noticed changes in register, and different customs between the Paksworld cultures when it comes to the ways people speak in different situations?


  • Comment by Genko — June 12, 2012 @ 5:24 pm


    I haven’t noticed so much, which probably means that what you’re doing makes sense to me. There are occasional explanations for titles (“my lord” vs “sir” vs “Sir King”), which helps because I would otherwise not have a clue. But mostly I accept that people are speaking in their own voice from their own linguistic and cultural background, and so far that seems to work without a lot of bumpiness. That is, you have a good way of presenting characters’ voices that, as you say, conveys a lot of who they are and where they come from without infodumping it.

    I once (!) tried to edit a book, and didn’t do too badly in some respects, but the author got really pissy about my attempts to modify what her character(s) were saying and how they said it. That was not something she was prepared to change on my say-so — she said something like “edit my words if you wish, but my characters are speaking in their own voices.” I thought that was an interesting distinction, and while I’m not sure I buy it completely, I could see her point. Obviously, she was a new author and I was a new editor, and neither of us really knew much about what we were doing, and nothing much came of it — she eventually went elsewhere to publish the book, which was fine.

    My hunch would be that either you can say something like that or explain each instance where the editor suggests a change, and let the education come that way. It would still, I suspect, take a lot less time than trying to write all these manuals you are talking about. In any case, trying to explain language is not easy. Linguists try, but the classes I took several years ago seemed to me to be trying to make sense out of a very large jumble of pick-up sticks, with lots of exceptions and special cases that you ended up just having to memorize. Yes, it’s useful to know about things like register and dialect and cultural differences, even history of language development. And still it seems to come down to what “sounds right” in any given instance. (Sounds right to whom? one may well ask)…

  • Comment by Chuck — June 12, 2012 @ 8:17 pm


    As a copy editor myself, and a reader of science fiction and fantasy for many years, it always surprises me that so many editors seem not to grasp the fundamental distinction between the words spoken by characters and the rest of the words in a story.

    The attention to differences of register and custom is one of the wonderful rich aspects of your books. It doesn’t usually draw attention to itself, because the way your characters speak varies so naturally depending who is speaking to whom and in what kind of situation. I’m 38% through a rereading of “Echoes of Betrayal,” and I think my editor antennae got triggered ONCE — and when I reread the sentence I thought “Yes, that’s how he would have said it, because that’s the way those people speak.”

    I know that Tolkien-style appendices are not much in fashion these days, and they’re not everyone’s cup of tea; but whenever I reread “The Lord of the Rings” I reread the appendices, too. They fascinated me as a kid and they still do. Nonfiction reading about a subcreated world is still some of the most enjoyable nonfiction reading.

  • Comment by greycats — June 12, 2012 @ 8:28 pm


    Some of the most striking examples are uttered by Jeddrin, Count of Andressat, both when he is using registers correctly and when he is not. Up until his startling discovery, he always spoke from the top down. In his home environment, he is exquisitely appropriate. He is considerate to his servants–a good master. When he addresses Alured’s presumed scholar, the register is that of scholarship, and Jeddrin sounds more like a conservator than a king. So he doesn’t speak in one register only and in his own environment, he is flexible and alert.

    It might have been interesting to hear him speak to someone he supposes to be his equal, but he seems to have considered himself somewhat superior to everyone, even in the South. Therefore he seems to have had no register from which to address colleagues. When he goes north, then, he reacts one of two ways: he becomes a master when he interacts with someone he considers his social inferior or he becomes obsequious if he thinks he is outranked. A really telling linguistic detail is Dorrin’s choice of words when she presents him with warm clothing. She knows his limitations so in order to get him to accept the clothing, she spoke to him as a servant might.

    But he begins to learn. At the gnomes mountain, he was much concerned about how to address their prince. He ends up not sounding very different than Selfer.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 12, 2012 @ 9:24 pm


    greycats: Yes! Thank you! That’s exactly how I hoped people with a really sensitive ear would read it. You caught the nuances perfectly.

    Chuck: Yes–dialog belongs to the character, not to the realm of grammatical purity. I don’t think dialog is always written well, but it absolutely must not be held to standards of grammar and punctuation that are relevant elsewhere. In real life, speech is so affected by emotion that really clumsy utterances are “natural”–though an attempt to replicate the kind of wooden, mechanical, overly perfect speech of someone who’s very shy just sounds like badly-written dialog for the most part. Putting in all the filler words would bore the reader in no time. So absolute replication of everyday speech is also a mistake. Punctuation’s where I’ve run into problems in previous books, even with some editors, because I use it to force rhythms and emphasis that improve clarity. And I’ve been reinforced in that by a talk I had with a voice actor who worked on some of my audiobooks. I asked her if they found punctuation, including non-standard punctuation, helpful, useless, or harmful in deciding how to voice dialog. She said they liked punctuation that clued them in to the character’s way of speaking, and most wanted it to be internally consistent.

    Genko: My first editor (the first three Paks books, and also the first three books of the new Paks group) changed my dialog very little, and only when it was too repetitious. I had written some plays, and in a book on writing plays had been informed that the audience needs to hear every important fact spoken three times (not by the same character.) So–also being fascinated by the different ways people can see the same events–I had far too many conversations that gave no new information the reader (and readers, unlike audience members, can flip back to remind themselves what someone said or did. They don’t need the repetition.) I’ve read dialog in student and contest entry stories that was…inadequate, I will say. Didn’t reveal character or advance the plot. Didn’t sound like a real person talking. That kind of dialog needs a rewrite (but not by the editor–by the writer, who can be encouraged to think deeper into the character.)

  • Comment by Ranunculus — June 12, 2012 @ 11:17 pm


    I think that one of the reasons I like your writing is that you DO let each character speak as they would naturally. Don’t let a new editor mess with something that is successful.

  • Comment by Jennifer — June 12, 2012 @ 11:23 pm


    One of the examples that springs to mind to me is the Aliam Halverics. Their natural style is fairly warm and informal, but you can hear the variation as they interact with different groups of people.

    When Alima first meets Paks, his tone is that of a military commander offering advice to a promising young soldier in a new and difficult position. When he meets her again, at his holding, he has switched more to family mode (complete with hug), having heard so much about her from Kieri, but that is tempered with his knowledge of her rank and power as Paladin. With Garris, a former squire, and with his own grandchildren, they are casual and inclined to teasing.

    Then there’s the more formally courteous tone used with the Lady, and later with Count Andressat – with people of high rank who care about appropriate deference. When talking to Kieri, you can hear the variations as Aliam has trouble with his change from former protege and friend to liege lord, but Estil handles it more naturally.

    Paks tends to change register when talking to different races. When she talks to gnomes or dwarves or elves, her speech patterns change – more formal, almost stilted with gnomes, more formal in a precise but slightly flowery courtesy – unconsciously picking up the patterns of each race.

    Gird is interesting in that he has less change of register than other major characters, and the changes are more based on the person than the rank. He’s stubborn and blunt with peasants, magelords and gnomes alike, although he moderates his temper much more with the gnomes. He is gentle with children and sweet old ladies, whether they are high or low rank.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 13, 2012 @ 12:13 am


    Ranunculus: Yikes–didn’t mean to suggest that Editor was interfering. That’s not the point of this post.

  • Comment by Moira — June 13, 2012 @ 12:26 am


    Yes, noticed, appreciated and enjoyed. For me, it’s one more thing that lends realism and depth to the characters: we’ve all read stories where the characters speak in the same voice (register) throughout, and it’s just shallow, unrealistic and unconvincing. The shifting nuances of register help the characters sound like people and not just like characters. (And make the books speak to us!)

    All the above examples are good ones, of course, but for me the most immediate one that comes to mind is Paks. Over the course of the books (earlier plus current) she has developed from the naive, inexperienced country lass whose native good manners nevertheless betray her origins, to a much more worldly, sophisticated young woman who is at home with kings, elves, yeomen and children. She can still relax with the common soldiers, she can still charm the youngsters, but she can now hold her own in the most formal of settings and adapt easily and comfortably to her situation.

    In terms of differing customs, of course there’s a big difference in north vs south (just like in real life!) but it’s also very apparent in the Eight Kingdoms. Fintha is fervently egalitarian (or at least fervently free of the nobility); Tsaia is the opposite, and a little stuffy with it; Lyonya is less stuffy but just as resoundingly royal (with the elvish mystique thrown in for good measure); Pargun is less fussed about the pomp and circumstance, more about the power, and has a more rough-and-ready feel to it. Again, it helps give the reader a strong sense of place and (what I like to call) flavor.

    And thank you for the post, because it gives this reader yet another insight into the craft of worldbuilding!

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 13, 2012 @ 12:27 am


    Jennifer: Yes, Gird’s lack of flexibility in register reflects both his background and his innate character. He is the same all the way through–whereas Luap has as many layers as an onion. Paks’s development of flexibility in register is related to background, innate character–and of that character, specifically to those things that make her a paladin. She cares about people and has charisma, so she unconsciously “matches” them to put them at ease. And Aliam–yes, he’s so aware of the formal requirements that it shakes him much more than Estil (who is, for the most part, perfectly comfortable in her skin, mistress of her household, and takes everyone as they come.)

  • Comment by Gareth — June 13, 2012 @ 3:05 am


    I think it works really well and helps differentiate the characters and to a degree the strengths and weaknesses of the different cultures. How about perhaps an audio lecture that you could record rather than ‘text book’ style notes. That might take a lot less time, less formal and can have a reference from the books. Those interested can listen, those who just want a good read aren’t disappointed when the story ends 50 pages before the end of the book to make room for appendices.

    I usually think extensive glossaries add very little – if the meanings and nuances didn’t come out in the story they either didn’t matter or didn’t work. They probably mattered a lot to the author as they were creating the world, but once the story stands I don’t think they matter as much to (most) readers.

    Tolkein style are interesting, but I’d still rather they were in a companion volume (or today on the web) rather than the main books. In a long story arc where would you put them? The first books are long gone, do you wait till the last book by which time it should be common knowledge to interested readers.

    I actually think that web site background material is a great idea – keeps the page count for the story and provides the information for those who want to dig deeper.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — June 13, 2012 @ 6:45 am


    Register is what makes your writing stand out. It can, like the first response, seemingly disappear entirely while making the character totally believable. The changes noted above about Aliam, Paks and Count Andressat all gave me pause (or not) to ponder the cultural nuances that these characters are encountering and give even more background to understanding the milieu of Paksworld.

    So yes, register has been dully noted.


  • Comment by Victoria — June 13, 2012 @ 8:46 am


    The first example that came to mind was from “Kings of the North” when Dorrin was interacting with (gah, can’t think of her name – Kieri’s new love and future wife) and realized she needed to give advice to a love lorn woman and not be an ambassador to a visiting dignitary.

    Dorrin’s register went from Dukeish Formal to Soldierly Sister in Arms. All it took was one sentence to flip the switch on the mode of address.

    I admire the Liaden books for the way they make the overt changes in Register (unlike your covert changes) work as part of the world building. The Liadens are so obviously stratified and custom-consious and formal that describing the change in Register works toward making them feel alien.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — June 13, 2012 @ 12:58 pm


    And you’ve been working with educating about the register and custom of writers over on LJ. Some people need an overt education.

  • Comment by Annabel (Mrs Redboots) — June 13, 2012 @ 1:17 pm


    The one that springs to mind instantly is when The Lady (I can’t possibly spell her name without going to look it up) is talking to a Halveric baby – she is quite natural with him, and far less formal than she is with the adults.

    Here in the UK, it’s also very much a matter of accent, particularly if you come, as I do, from a home where the natural mode of speech is “posh”. For survival, kids learn to speak with the local accent when they are with their peers, but revert to their home speech at home, and often with teachers and other adults.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — June 13, 2012 @ 2:50 pm


    I agree with Genko, and others, that I had not really noticed, and that means that the registers are believable.

    There are a couple of instances that spring to mind. One is in Oath of Fealty (chapters 38-39). When Dorrin is introduced to the prince and the court, she is suitably hesitant and subordinates herself. When the issue of the crown comes up, she is assertive and insists politely on showing the regalia to the prince and others at the Verrakai residence. Then at the coronation itself, she responds with command presence to the threat posed by the groom, responds to the discovery of her father, and then responds to the legal issue of her use of magery in quite a different way. Not only does her tone vary with the immediate situations (different dialog partners), but there is an overall development that reflects her own growing into the role of duke. Very well done!

    A very different use of different registers occurs in Divided Allegiance when Paks is in Brewersbridge for the first time. She speaks quite differently to Sevri, to the Marshal, to the council, to Mal. In addition, Arvid speaks quite differently to her, in comparison to the “natives” of Brewersbridge. The kuakgan amazingly speaks very much like the others in Brewersbridge, but comes across with much more authority. This is only the tip of the iceberg with that episode – it is a masterful work of construction as far as the ordinary/extraordinary characters that Paks engages. Thank you!

  • Comment by Jenn — June 13, 2012 @ 5:47 pm


    this again is one of those details that make the difference between a good book and a great book. It would be interesting to know if in the Paksworld languages if there are different verb tenses used when speaking to different ranks of people: pupil to master, servant to employer, adult to child, peer to peer. When I first learned french I was often speaking in the formal “vous”. So I had to remind myself to speak with “tu” to the children and familiars. I got some very quizzical looks from the children. :)

  • Comment by Genko — June 13, 2012 @ 5:55 pm


    Yes, same in Spanish. When I was teaching English to Spanish-speakers, I tried saying “usted” as a matter of respect. These were all adults, but they quickly taught me that using that form made them feel old, and that I needed to be using “tu” to be more familiar. It isn’t just subordinates, which was what I was thinking, but also used among friends, which was closer to what I wanted to convey. It definitely gets tricky with other languages.

  • Comment by Iphinome — June 13, 2012 @ 8:14 pm


    It would be easier if using the tu form in English didn’t cause people to look at you like you’re insane.

  • Comment by Kip Colegrove — June 13, 2012 @ 9:28 pm


    So I put down Miller and Lee’s “Carpe Diem” to check the Paks blog and what do I find? A discussion of the very thing I’ve been admiring as I read!

    Some languages, like Japanese, are famous for encoding very complex social registers in grammar, vocabulary–every linguistic means possible. But since all cultures and their associated languages do this to some degree, writers who deal with worldbuilding in depth must take it into account or the worlds they build/describe will seem inauthentic.

    I agree that this is handled very well indeed in the Paksworld books. To the examples already given in this thread I would add the speech of the character Macenion, who doesn’t really know who he is at heart (until the last moments of his life, perhaps), and this is reflected in the irritating (and often unsuccessful) way he tries to assume the status and manners of an authentic elf. He thinks he talks a good fight, but we, and ultimately Paks, see through him.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 14, 2012 @ 3:44 pm


    Sharon Lee had a blog post a few days (week?) ago, or that’s when I found it anyway, also discussing pretty much the same thing. A reader had taken her to task for “bad grammar” in dialog (Miri and a few others), totally missing the point.

    Some people seem to read only to find errors so they can feel smug about themselves. The “Gotcha!” approach to reading (and maybe life as well.)

  • Comment by Genko — June 14, 2012 @ 6:16 pm


    Oh, yeah. I just read through an interview (at the interviewee’s request), and found a few things. One was a legitimate misspelling, which was corrected. The others really could be put down to the fact that it was speech, not formal writing. They were, as I admitted, quibbles, and probably didn’t get corrected, and I have no complaints.

    Speech and formal writing are different, and even reporting speech in writing is going to be different.

  • Comment by RichardB — June 14, 2012 @ 7:22 pm


    Fascinating discussion.

    Elizabeth, I think you have got the registers spot on, and it’s one of the reasons why I find your dialog passages so satisfying and credible.

    Also interesting to read what others here wrote about the ‘tu’/’vous’ distinction. As a Brit who has lived and worked in France, Germany and Italy, I agree that the way they teach us in school errs (correctly) on the side of formality. I find that people drop to ‘tu’ form quite readily once bit of rapport has been established, but there is a balance to be struck between being overly familiar and being stand-offish. One has to read the situation and go with the flow.

    A good rule of thumb is whether one would feel OK about saying a very mild swear-word in front of someone. If not, then stick to the ‘vous’ forms.

  • Comment by Iphinome — June 14, 2012 @ 7:58 pm


    @RichardB I don’t know anyone who uses the tu form of English at all.

    And every use of it I see in various media tends to be wrong. Damn you Darth Vader, damn you a lot, thee/thy/thou/thine is tu, you/your is vous, he was being rude to the emperor.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — June 14, 2012 @ 8:50 pm


    The issue with you/thou; vous/tu; etc is not only degree of formality, but also plurality. So a teacher addressing a class should use you, but addressing a young student, thee.

    The Quakers deliberately used thou/thee to express brotherly love. (And were rude to the king.) Thus confusing the issue ever after.

  • Comment by Moira — June 14, 2012 @ 9:07 pm


    The moral of the story (or at least this thread) is: be rude to kings and emperors. And queens. (She was rude to my cousin. Hmph.)

    But not in Paksworld. :)

  • Comment by Iphinome — June 14, 2012 @ 9:10 pm


    @Ginny W: Yes, same as the french, vous for the plural you.

    Je – I/me/mine
    tu – thou/thee/thine
    vous – ye/you/your

    il – he
    elle – her
    on – Don’t ask, just don’t. Learn french if you’re curious.

    vous – you plural
    nous – we

    ils – they
    elles – they (group consists only of females)

  • Comment by tkil — June 14, 2012 @ 11:53 pm


    I won’t go as far as to call it jarring, but the interactions between Paks and the garrison at the river crossing (on the journey from Duke Phelan’s stronghold to Chaya) was an eye-opening change.

    To go from the familiarity (with appropriate respect) of Stammel and the Duke, to “Sir Nigan-Kirgan” (apologies if I have that backwards!) was pretty shocking. Understandable, and others upthread have discussed Paks’ evolution; but that instance immediately came to mind when I read your initial post.

    Overall, I have a pretty wooden ear for this sort of thing. When I have noticed it, it has almost always been positive, reinforcing the reality of the world you’ve created and shared with us.

    @Chuck, @Gareth: regarding “Tolkien-style appendices”, especially on the web, have you ever stumbled upon the Encyclopedia of Arda?

    It’s stunning as it is, but when they put markers like “8 more updates planned”, I really start to freak out.

    And yes, I would absolutely adore to see such a resource for Paksworld. Maybe when I win the lottery…

  • Comment by Moira — June 15, 2012 @ 1:41 am


    I don’t see a problem with Tolkien-style appendices – I loved ’em! I even studied the Elvish & Dwarvish scripts somewhat, and translated all the runic inscriptions on the covers of the books (depends on your edition, I suppose). All the extra material was very welcome and greedily devoured.

    It would be nice to have it as a resource on the web, of course, but I’m an old-fashioned kind of a gal. I like having my books & stuff in good old black and white in the palm of my sweaty little paw.

    I’d vote for appendices in the final book of a story arc – this one or the next one. (AHEM! Not that we’re getting ahead of ourselves or anything…!) But only when / if it doesn’t interfere with the plot daemon and the publishing cycle. (And Elizabeth’s sleep pattern, worn and threadbare as it must be, poor thing.)

  • Comment by Gareth — June 15, 2012 @ 3:02 am


    Marginally off topic but hoping for an answer. I’ve not read the Liaden series – where should I start (see lots on Amazon but no indications of the order).


  • Comment by Genko — June 15, 2012 @ 4:23 pm


    I generally find Wikipedia to be a good source for stuff like this. In this case
    has the books listed in order, and other good background stuff.

    I’ve been discovering too many good books/series lately, and tend to do a google search, with Wikipedia often coming up first. Sometimes you get the author’s home page, which may be helpful, and sometimes other fans have stuff out there.

  • Comment by Richard — June 16, 2012 @ 5:13 pm


    Back to #4, by the way, and how playwrights are advised to have important things said three times. I was told the same thing in management training (very basic, very junior management): when writing a report, tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you have said. I suspect this really means that lazy bosses like to read an introduction on the first page, turn straight to a conclusion on the last, then send all the middle into the filing cabinet unread.

  • Comment by Moira — June 16, 2012 @ 5:18 pm


    Richard, it’s also the recommendation in training classes: tell them what you’re going to teach them, teach it to them, then tell them what you’ve taught them.

    No argument about lazy bosses from me(!) but I suspect it’s probably just the way the human brain works. We retain things more effectively and organize them in our mental file cabinets better if we have that triple play. Certainly in modern, do-everything-in-a-hurry style.

    I’m always fascinated at the way our brains work!

  • Comment by Richard — June 16, 2012 @ 5:52 pm


    Would it help Editor, and copy-editors, to have a collection of examples of cultural references in speech? Such as exclamations and benedictions used by people of different religious allegiance (the following are nearly all from the DEED trilogy):

    “By the gods”
    “Gods above”

    SOLDIERS (TIRIANS especially)
    “Tir’s brass boots!”
    “Tir’s guts!”
    “Tir’s bones!”
    “Tir take all such to the black realms!” (Count Vladi, mercenary commander)
    “… every Tir-damned mule …” (Dorrin)

    “By Zudthyi’s Spear” (a sergeant in Phelan’s Company, once)

    “By all the gods and Falk’s oath” (Dorrin)
    “Falk’s oath in gold!” (a Halveric soldier)
    “Falk’s oath! Is that …” (Garris)
    “By St. Falk” (a Vonja soldier/spy)
    “By Holy Falk and Gird” (the same person again)
    “By Falk! You cannot …” (Aliam Halveric)
    “Ward of Falk” (parting words from Aliam)
    “Ward of Falk. Against an evil tongue” (Dorrin)
    “Ward of Falk against all evil ones” (Dorrin, in OoF)
    “Ward of Falk and the High Lord’s grace” (Dorrin, in OoF)
    “Falk’s grace” (Dorrin, in OoF)
    “Falk’s blade, I do indeed” (Garris)
    “Sir king, on Falk’s oath I swear” (one of the Lyonyan squires)

    “Gird’s arm!” (a corporal in Phelan’s Company)
    “Gird’s right arm” (Mikeli when still only crown prince)
    “By St. Gird” (Canna)
    “Holy Gird defend him” (Canna)
    “By Gird and Falk and the High Lord himself” (Sergeant Vossik)
    “By the High Lord” (a Gird’s Marshal)
    “May Gird’s care be with you” (parting words from a High Marshal)
    “Gird’s grace on you” (a yeoman-marshal to a brigand prisoner who is confessing)
    “Gird’s teeth, it’s my business” (the same yeoman-marshal)
    “Gird’s teeth, girl, what [more convincing] do you want?” (Arianya)
    “… a Marshal-General of Gird, and Captain-Temporal of the High Lord” (Arianya describing herself)
    “Gird’s gut, may the ale hold out” (Fin Panir armsmaster; Arianya)
    “Gird’s cudgel, this will …” (Marshal Cedfer at Brewersbridge; Prince Mikeli)
    “Gird’s shovel, man …” (High Marshal Seklis)
    “Oh Gird’s grace, did you have to …”
    “Gird’s grace, and the High Lord’s power, rest on this place of peace” (a High Marshal)
    “Gird’s blessing on this place, and all within it” (Arianya)
    “Gird’s grace, and the High Lord’s favor, be with you and yours” (Marshal Berris at Harway in OoF)
    “Gird’s grace to you, sir knight” (Paks)
    “Gird’s strength to you” (Paks)
    “Gird’s power rest in your grange” (Paks)

    A prayer: “Holy Gird, patron of warriors, protector of the weak, strengthen our arms and warm our hearts [etc]” (Canna)

    “Gird’s grace be with you, and with me, and may we gain strength to serve the High Lord’s will” (Arianya, starting a snack lunch in her office with Paks whom she is interviewing: the only example I can recall of a benediction before eating)

    KUAKKGANNIR (but not exclusively?)
    “By the Tree” (Master Oakhallow; Kolya)
    “Mother of Trees!” (a part-elf Lyonyan ranger; Master Oakhallow; Kolya)
    “May the First Tree shade your path, and shed fruit for your hunger, and the wisdom of all wild things be yours” (Kolya, to which Paks replies:) “May the High Lord’s grace and Gird’s protection be on you, and the Lady of Peace bring plenty to your orchard”

    “Orphin, grant me patience” (Macenion, a mage who pretended to be half-elven)

    “Simyits forbid!”(Arvid)
    “By Simyits” (a wagonmaster)
    “I don’t deserve it, that’s the truth, but that’s luck. It comes as Simyits pleases – [] As for the High Lord, he made the whole world, so I hear, if it wasn’t Sertig instead, but what does he have to do with a mule driver?”

    “By the singer, I hope …” (an elf)

  • Comment by Kip Colegrove — June 17, 2012 @ 7:29 pm


    Richard and Moira: The triple repitition of an important point is also often recommended for preaching. Some preachers (and I’m one of them) change the way the point is presented each time, trying to be clear I’m still talking about the same thing but giving a usefully altered view. Which I think is a good technique generally if you have to emphasize something by repetition.

    Gareth: I dove right into the middle of the Liaden Universe books with Scout’s Progress, which is still my favorite, and each book does stand on its own (as books in a series ought to do) but you can find various useful lists in cyberspace. (Dove right into the middle of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books, too–but I’ve read Elizabeth’s books in series order.)

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 17, 2012 @ 7:46 pm


    Triple repetition makes sense any time the listener/viewer can’t ask you to repeat something. It annoys our choir director (and every choir director I’ve had) that everyone in the choir doesn’t get what was said the FIRST time–but for people who take in information best visually, grabbing and holding auditory information can be hard. If you’re looking at the music and trying to figure out that twiddly bit in measure 23, and the choir director wants everyone to turn to square D in a different piece–by the time your mind realizes information is arriving, and you’ve removed your attention from measure 23,it’s too late. You hear only “Square D” and have no idea which piece.

    Sometimes the problem is just that “transition gap”–that most speakers (other than playwrights and people giving sermons) won’t wait for. Parents, for instance. “How many times do I have to tell you…?” can result from not giving a child time to unhook attention from something else, snag what was said out of short-term auditory memory, and fix it in “present attention.” Our son needed longer to respond to any verbal cue (when he was little–VERY much longer) and he wasn’t “ignoring” us. It was a consistent pause between, for instance, saying his name and seeing from his face that he’d “heard” it.

  • Comment by Moira — June 18, 2012 @ 11:08 pm


    @Richard – Nice list! I think my fave is:
    “Gird’s gut, may the ale hold out!”

  • Comment by Genko — June 19, 2012 @ 8:18 am


    Yes, that transition gap is important. Make sure people have a chance to process the information. Thay may or may not mean repeating it. But it at least means that people take maybe longer than you think they will to get it.

    When I was teaching, I had to learn this, and when I had interns, the most common mistake was that they would ask a question or give an instruction, and then not wait long enough for people to answer or do the task. We’re so accustomed to the “no gaps” style of talking in conversation that we try to impose that on to a teaching situation, where it really isn’t appropriate. Silence isn’t comfortable for us, but in teaching, it’s absolutely essential. Especially when you ask a question where people have to think, you need to give them a chance to do that first.

    I saw a person with a Ph.D in Education break people into groups, give instructions, and then continue going around adding more to the instructions while people were trying to work — “oh, here, you’ll need this, and don’t forget to …” It was maddening to deal with as a student, and reinforced my own knowledge of basic classroom management. And, no, I dobn’t think she was doing it on purpose. She had a great grounding in theory, but obviously not a lot of practical experience in dealing with a real classroom.

  • Comment by Jenn — June 19, 2012 @ 5:37 pm


    My favorite phrase was every “Tir-damned mule…” I think that is when I started to see Dorrin as a person rather than a support cast. I love that line. It was a great line.

    (Three right?)

  • Comment by Mary E Cowart — June 20, 2012 @ 12:59 am


    This discussion made me realize that my grandfather used “register” all the time. He was a doctor in Huntsville, TX and the rural area around the town. He would speak the speak of the people he was around, whether townsfolk who tended to use more formal language or around rural folk who used a less formal approach to language. He would even pour coffee from his cup to a saucer to cool it off, then drink from the saucer.

    I may be remembering more or less about him. But this conversation reminded me of this.


  • Comment by Richard — June 20, 2012 @ 3:43 pm


    Jenn (#38) yes, Paks-III aka Oath of Gold chapter 29. Not something Dorrin would have learnt in Falk’s Hall.

    I’ve got a score more phrases from KoN and EoB to add to my list, including some more variations on Falk and Gird (the range of variation is impressive and I think it does matter: not formulaic but natural usage) and half a dozen different invocations of the Singer by elves (Orlith and Flessinathlin). I’m wondering whether to post them here – Editor should be able to merge the two lists easily enough – or e-mail Elizabeth a combined copy.

  • Comment by Richard — June 20, 2012 @ 3:48 pm


    Meanwhile I’m about ready to tackle the royal custom part of this exam question. For starters, Mikeli uses the royal “we” in correspondence – even in a friendly letter to Kieri about Dorrin – but not in speech, while Kieri never uses it at all.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — June 20, 2012 @ 4:30 pm


    Richard: Please post the list here. I love it! Obviously the gods of Paksworld do not object to having their names taken in vain. Or not much anyway.

    The usage in Lyonya seems to be to address him as Sir King. But perhaps the royal plural comes easier to Mikeli, who has been schooled to it from a very young age, and who must assert his royalty, because he is young. Kieri is used to his commands being obeyed, but he has learned to handle and convey his authority without any royal prerogative. So the royal “we” doesn’t come naturally. Also in the joint kingdom of Lyonya, a royal “we” could be reserved for matters where the king was conveying the agreement or consent of the Lady.

    When I learned the “three times” rule, it was “tell them”, “show them”, “tell them what you told them”. The more senses and contexts people have for information the better anchored it is. But Elizabeth is right that it is somewhat different in a novel. Although one of the issues that needed to be developed was Kieri’s anger, and whether it disqualified him for the kingship. So it was talked about, and scenes like the attack on the wounded train in Sheepfarmer’s daughter, or after Dwarfwatch, and Siniava’s death reinforced it, and when it was an issue, it was firmly embedded in his character. So repetition matters here too.

  • Comment by Richard — June 20, 2012 @ 5:21 pm


    Ginny, here they are

    “Gods willing” (Burek, in EoB)

    FALK (part 2)
    “Falk’s honor” (Dorrin, in KoN)
    “Well met, Sister, and Falk’s grace to you” (Dorrin to Arian – one Knight of Falk to another – to which Arian replied:) “And Falk’s honor be upon this house”
    “Why in Falk’s name …” (Dorrin, in KoN)
    “Falk honor your service” (Kieri, to dead Squires, in KoN)
    “Receive this ruby as a sign of Falk’s Oath. In mind and heart, be as Falk; speak only truth, keep all promises, and shed blood only in the protection of those who cannot protect themselves” (formal words of commissioning a Knight of Falk, in EoB)

    GIRDISH (part 2)
    “It is Gird’s mercy that …” (Marshal-Judicar Oktar, in KoN)
    “Holy Gird and Falk!” (Arcolin, in KoN)
    “Gird and the High Lord know” (Arcolin, in EoB)
    “Gird protect him” (Arcolin, in EoB)
    “Holy Gird help us” (Sonder Mahieran, in EoB)
    “Gird’s gut” (a Fox Company soldier, in KoN)

    OTHERS (part 2)
    “Alyanya’s blessing” (Paks, in KoN, as she throws a plum-stone into the hedge)

    “Simyits take the luck” (a thief in Valdaire, in EoB)

    “Sertig’s curse on you!” (the dwarf thief in KoN)

    “I swear on Camwyn’s Claw” (Andressat, in KoN)

    “Singer of songs!” (Flessinathlin, in KoN)
    “Singer of worlds, help us” (Arian, in KoN)
    “May the First Singer grant you harmony” (Orlith, in KoN)
    “Singer’s grace!” (Orlith, in KoN)
    “Blessings of the Singer on this day of joy” (Flessinathlin, in EoB)
    “On the Singer’s own name, I swear it” (Flessinathlin, in EoB)

  • Comment by Ginny W. — June 20, 2012 @ 6:54 pm


    Richard: Thank you!
    As blessings go, “May the First Singer grant you harmony” is one of my favorites.

    On the subject of appendices: The appendices in Tolkien’s book gave language information, and a number of tales that belonged to “ancient history”, supposedly collected by Bilbo or Merry or Pippin. It worked because of the country-cousin-out-in-the-wide-world setting.

    We don’t really have anyone to do that. Andressat is the only character to have a collector-of-ancient-documents mindset. But he is, in his own way, even more provincial than the hobbits. Although the shock he has gotten might inspire him to search his archives and produce a work “Some Notes on the Founding of Aarenis”. Or perhaps Elis will discover a sudden gift for scholarship and write “The Peoples of the North: Concerning the origin of the Eight Kingdoms” for the benefit of future Pargunese ambassadors.

  • Comment by Richard — June 21, 2012 @ 5:26 pm


    A few more phrases from OoF I missed first time round

    GIRDISH (3)
    “Gird’s blood, what a mess!” (Sonder Mahieran, looking at a room full of dead bodies, and at Roly Serrostin drenched in Verrakai’s blood)

    “By the strength of Gird Strong-Arm, by the fire of the High Lord’s altar, be still” (the Marshal purifying the captured swords)

    “Go with Gird, and Gird’s grace be with you” (Kieri who is not a Girdsman making a public farewell to Selfer, who is)

    “Gods grant” and “Gods be praised” (Marshal-Judicar Donag and Juris Marrakai respectively, both of them Girdsmen)

    FALK (3)
    “May the High Lord grant me wisdom to see the truth and judge rightly.” (Dorrin, come to hear a legal case)
    “Lord Falk, help me” (Dorrin)

    “Thanks to the merin of the well, for the good water. We honor the Lady and her handmaidens. No harm will come to this well by our use.” (Arcolin)
    “Lady’s grace on you” (Dorrin)
    “Falk’s grace, Alyanya’s bounty” (Dorrin in the cursed well)

    SOLDIERS (2)
    “Gird’s grace on him, Tir’s honor for his courage, and the High Lord forgive …” (Arcolin executing a bandit)

    “The mightiest of gods is Liart, Lord of Torments”
    “In favor of my lord Liart, and my lord Ibbirun, I give this blood and this pain. May they grant me power to serve them better.”

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 21, 2012 @ 6:05 pm


    Richard, thank you so much for this. I’ll want to put it on the Paksworld website as background material, if it’s OK with you. Not until I finish the edits, though (p. 467/861 at the moment.)

  • Comment by Iphinome — June 21, 2012 @ 6:23 pm


    There wasn’t even one for Falk’s sake? Talk about missing the chance to get crap past the radar.

  • Comment by Richard — June 21, 2012 @ 6:53 pm


    ADDRESSING THE KING: here’s what I see

    In both Lyonya and Tsaia, the king can be addressed either as “sir king” [that’s in EoB only: in OoF and KoN it was always “Sir King” as if he were a knight whose name were King) or else as “my lord king”, “my lord” or “lord king”; foreigners – such as Elis or Ganlin talking to Kieri – use the latter.

    During a long conversation, a speaker may well use both forms just for variety. As a rule of thumb, the higher the speaker’s rank the more often he or she uses the “sir king” form. A servant, even a special one like Joriam, always says “lord”. So did Stammel when introducing Dragon to Mikeli; indeed he opened with an even more formal “My lord and king”.

    Both Siger and Vardan said “m’lord” instead of “my lord”; I take this to be more a matter of accent than anything else.

    “Sire” is another option, rarely used.

    Torfinn, in their most recent meeting, said “king of Lyonya” before finally using Kieri’s name.

    Both Dragon (to Mikeli) and Oakhallow (to Kieri) have used “o king”.

    Amrothlin, when Kieri repeatedly called him Uncle, once replied “nephew-our-king”.

    “My lord prince” is the princely equivalent to “my lord king” (both to Mikeli before his coronation, and to Camwyn).

    “Your Highness” is the princely equivalent to “Sir King” (to Mikeli).

    Tsaia’s Order of Attainder styled Mikeli (then crown prince) as His Highness and Kieri as His Majesty. A king is never ADDRESSED as “Your Majesty”. In Lyonya, both Estil and Orlith have REFERRED TO “the king’s majesty” (note small “m”), and Arian once said “the king’s grace” when she might have said simply “the king”.

    Mikeli usually says “Duke Verrakai” but has used “Dorrin” in a private conversation; but from Kieri it has ALWAYS been “Sier Whoever”, NEVER the first name.

    Elizabeth, in our world, saying “King Kieri” too quickly can produce an unintended and unfortunate impression.

  • Comment by Richard — June 21, 2012 @ 7:11 pm


    (#46) Elizabeth, yes of course you may. If it helps when the time comes I’ve kept a Word document with all the quotes in, collated into a single sequence, though with the speaker/book references slightly condensed.

  • Comment by Richard — June 22, 2012 @ 3:59 am


    My mistake – “sir king” was written withour capitals in OoG too.

    Only once have I noticed a Knight of Falk being called “Sir ..” (when the Halveric courier said “Sir Garris”). Whereas a Knight of the Bells, of Gird, or of the Cudgel (the other Girdish order) will be “Sir Wotsisname”.

    Women knights in those orders, though much in the minority, are common enough that people should know whether one will be Sir or Lady Wotsername, but the only evidence I remember is Paks being called Lady once she is a paladin.

    We’ve also heard of Knights of the Dragon’s Breath, based in Aarenis I guess, but have we ever met one?

  • Comment by Moira — June 22, 2012 @ 4:28 am


    Hmmm, remember when Paks was studying with the Girdish in Fin Panir? At the Midwinter Feast, she met a female paladin (Camwynna? Cam for short? sorry, too tired to go look it up) and I would swear this one was referred to as Sir Cam-whatsername. I think.

    But it’s entirely possible that I’m dreaming. My pillow calls.

  • Comment by pjm — June 23, 2012 @ 4:05 am


    Camwynya, abbreviated to Cami, but her real name was Rahel. (see Deed ch 53; Divided Allegiance ch 22). She was referred to as Lady Cami by the dwarves; I didn’t find Sir Cami, Sir Camwynya or Sir Rahel.

  • Comment by Richard — June 24, 2012 @ 10:56 am


    I’m not Elizabeth, so people had better check my answers and shout whenever I get one wrong. I’ve just remembered that the man in charge of Kieri’s stable is a Knight of Falk, and IS called SIR Ganeth. So now I’m suggesting that:

    – The customary honorific for a knight in Phelan’s Company was “Captain”;

    – The correct title (when one is needed – the King addresses them by name only) for a Lyonyan King’s Squire who is also a Knight of Falk (as all of them have to be) is “King’s Squire”;

    – The Lyonyan rangers eschew titles between themselves, making no distinction between the many who are Knights of Falk and the many (many more?) who are not.

  • Comment by pjm — June 24, 2012 @ 10:12 pm


    I would imagine that the usual practice in a moderately formal situation is to use the highest title (thus King’s Squire rather than knight). However I would also expect that “Sir So-and-so” might be used to distinguish between two of them.

    Given that knighthood was earned I would doubt that a knight in Phelan’s company would be ranked lower than captain, but I would be even more surprised if a knight in a lower rank would be called “Captain” as a courtesy title. Consider Hornblower, Maturin, etc – a midshipman could be the son of a king and might on occasion be entitled to be called “Your Highness”, but not Lieutenant, Captain, or whatever until that rank was earned. Ranks on board ship could be very different from social rankings. (eg “Mr Prince” in one of the Hornblower books – I think “Hornblower and the Atropos”).


  • Comment by Moira — June 25, 2012 @ 12:16 am


    (52) Peter – Thanks, yes, it was Cami I was thinking of. Still haven’t had time to go back and look, so I’m not sure where the “Sir” part came from. Maybe wishful thinking. 😉 (I was always very much in favor of the gender-blind military address in the Serrano series.)

    (54) Your reasoning is perfectly fine – IF we assume that the eight kingdoms follow the same formal etiquette as Britain. I’m not sure I’d want to make that assumption, since it’s a different world and Elizabeth may have made different decisions in places. As we’ve discussed before, Paksworld owes a lot of its power to compel and absorb our attention to its familiarity and its use of real-world historical sources, but familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean duplication.

    Or to put it in a nutshell, with apologies to Gershwin: it ain’t necessarily so. 😉

  • Comment by Richard — June 26, 2012 @ 2:17 am


    Dorrin as a knight (of Falk) in Phelan’s Company we’ve never seen given any other title than “Captain”.

    All this still leaves slightly open the question, are Knights of Falk as a general rule (and as opposed to other knights) no more inclined to flaunt their status than university graduates in our world are to insist on having the letters “B.A.” (or whatever their degree is) included after their names?

  • Comment by pjm — June 26, 2012 @ 8:09 am


    Moira and Richard,
    Hmmmm! (Pauses to think, but not too long. Opens mouth, changes feet)

    I don’t think we know how Dorrin was addressed before she was a captain. I stand corrected on knights in lower ranks though.

    Making up a world doesn’t mean you can do just anything – it still has to make sense and work. I can’t see that addressing a corporal or a sergeant with the courtesy title of “Captain” would make any sense.

    That said, there may always be reasons why things which seem to make no sense, really do make sense. (if that makes sense)

    (changes feet again)


  • Comment by Richard — June 26, 2012 @ 8:18 am


    Another piece of the jigsaw (I keep spotting them one at a time): on the way from Harway to the Verrakai house, Dorrin met some militia and made them pledge fealty. For that formality, she styled herself “Sir Dorrin, Duke of Verrakai”: knightly rank as well as noble title. She’d already decided to use the male form Duke rather than Duchess (which she associates with a Duke’s consort).

    Elizabteh, one difficulty you will have if you do write an etiquette manual is that the way your characters have been shoved around, many of them haven’t read the right chapters and have been struggling to adapt as they go along.

    The oath itself makes an interesting comparison with the one Kieri’s soldiers swore back when he was Duke Phelan (in chapter 7 of Sheepfarmer’s Daughter).

    Notice how Verrakai is not only a family surname, but also the name of a domain. We saw the same usage from Arcolin when Mikeli asked his opinion of Dorrin. Also Mikeli’s letter to Dorrin mentioned “Kieri Artfiel Phelan, Duke of Phelan” (which domain then reverted to the name “North Marches” when given to Arcolin; no wonder all the village charters had to be rewritten). Which makes me wonder is “Andressat” also both surname and domain name? (remembering that Tsaian customs for noble titles come from Aare by way of Aarenis). Was the city of Cortes Andres named after the man who founded it?

  • Comment by Richard — June 26, 2012 @ 8:33 am


    #57: Peter, Dorrin went into the Company as a junior captain. I don’t know that Phelan ever had any knights under him who weren’t captains. (Certainly not as squires: those left him to BECOME knights. I wonder what title was put against Paks’ name in the records once she was obviously a paladin.) My point was that the title “Captain” replaced the knightly one. He may have had captains who weren’t knights (Arcolin for one, I now suspect) and deliberately not discriminated.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 26, 2012 @ 5:41 pm


    Richard: Trying to cover many points at once…hope I don’t stumble.

    Yes, Andressat is both the family name and the surname, and that’s true for the “old” domains established by at least one branch of magelords in Aarenis. The fortified cities (Cortes Immer, Cortes Cilwan, Cortes Vonja, Cortes Andres and a few more no longer existing in that form) were intended as the centers of power for a region. It is noteworthy that Alured the Black, when he chose/made up his new name, did NOT take on the family name Immerdzat. There are spoilers in saying any more….both about the naming conventions and the reasons for Alured’s choices.

    The rank structure in Kieri’s company, as in other mercenary companies, was kept simple for practical reasons: one commander, captains under the commander if the company was large enough, soldiers under them–and for most such, no more than three grades, though they didn’t all choose the same names for those grades. An officer in a merc company used the terminology of the merc company, no matter what his/her rank had been before, unless that officer was the commander, when–like Kieri–he might choose to use a title.

    For the nobility and royalty, both titles and terms of address do not conform exactly to British (or any other) usage. That is intentional. About the time you throw in all the levels and all the terminology of any one this-world aristocracy, you’re creating a crossover effect that I didn’t want. I needed enough familiar terms to make it believable (to those who knew little of court etiquette but the little they knew was British) but enough difference to signal (to those who knew a lot of British court etiquette) that no, we’re not in the Court of St. James.

    Knights are in an ambiguous situation…the foundation of knightly orders under Gird’s fellowship, for instance, was a source of some dispute back down the line. Here were elite warriors–on horseback, with armor–who looked all too much like the magelords of old. And yet…you may need a troop of elite warriors capable of looking impressive. And yet…Gird could look impressive in an old patched shirt and nothing more in his hand than a longstaff. Girdish knighthood started in Tsaia, on the foundation of existing traditions (and the dangerous proximity to magelord traditions was noted!!) Note that the Tsaian knights are in the Order of the Bells, not the Order of Gird. Girdish knights in Fintha were founded in somewhat the same spirit as the German Navy in the late 1800s/early 1900s in rivalry with the Royal Navy…”You think you’re so hot, well, we can do better.” The Knights of Gird are specifically a religious order…with all that implies of the combined military/religious power. That’s about to become interesting. More would be spoilerish. Knights of Falk have a really complex history and tradition, one that weaves together the Falkian core beliefs in the nobility of good breeding and the humility of Falk himself, the prince who suffered slavery to free his brothers. It is entirely proper (in the Falkian tradition) for a Knight of Falk to show no pride and demand no deference, using either his/her plain name or a rank achieved in another field…but wearing the ruby. So the Lyonyan rangers and Squires who are knights (all the Squires, some of the rangers) wear the ruby but no other sign of knighthood, and are not addressed as “Sir”. A Falkian paladin (always a knight…so far…) will be clearly recognized as a knight, and addressed formally except by companions.

  • Comment by pjm — June 26, 2012 @ 9:58 pm


    Thanks Elizabeth.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 27, 2012 @ 7:25 am


    One other thing, which bears on the consistency issue. When I wrote the original DEED, I had never published fiction, or written anything near that long. I’d kept trying to write short stories (which never ended, so I abandoned them and started new ones.) This time, I decided to just stay with it and see what happened–and you know the rest.

    But though I knew what the story needed, instinctively, I was not aware of how I was getting there, for the most part. I was not nearly as analytical about the process as I am now. I hadn’t been an English major, hadn’t spent time analyzing how other writers did it, and had only audited one semester of creative writing (did the assignments, but that’s all.) It either felt right, or it didn’t, and I wrote that section differently. It went through three full-length drafts, with some sections having more, so a lot of words flowed under the story-ship, but it was still instinct.

    By the end, I was just barely becoming aware of how I was doing what I was doing. I had learned through the whole process; I learned a lot from my first editor, Betsy Mitchell. But the only way I knew to actually write a story was to plunge in and let the story tell itself. I remember, a few years later, being asked to teach a workshop–which I did–but realizing that I had no way to talk about process. My students were English majors who had the words, but not the experience. My “feel” for what I was doing had nothing to do with the way they’d been taught to analyze fiction. It was a bumpy ride.

    At any rate…we adopted our son as I was writing through what became the second volume, and by the time I’d finished the DEED we knew he had developmental problems. I started researching…and as we groped around trying to help him with his language problems, I found myself back in linguistics, needing more than my one course had given me, as well as neurology and what was then known about developmental psychology and neurology (a lot less than is known now.)

    This gave me additional tools, and working with our son made me more aware of how I myself used language. Slow process, but 20 books and a years later I was understanding more of what I do…enough so I can talk about it, though I still don’t know all the English department vocabulary and am not at all sure we’re on the same page. The story-instinct is still there, the story still comes the way it did in the DEED (which is the fun part) but instead of just grabbing a few basic tools out of the toolkit and hoping they’ll do the job, I’ve now got a big rolling case of them, many drawers in that case, many sizes of many tools, and the groping hand automatically knows which drawer and which tool. Usually. (Never always. You’d think by now I’d type without error. HA!)

    I still plunge in and let the story tell itself to me. I still don’t know where stuff is coming from until afterward (if then); I still the instinct run the show. But book after book I’ve looked at and questioned myself: why did I make that choice (of words, of phrasing, of punctuation?) How did it work once done? Would this other choice have worked as well? Better? When an editor (any editor) changed something, the same analysis: better? Worse? The same but different? What difference did the difference make?

    The writer I am now reads the original Paks books with considerable respect: how did someone as ignorant as I was of process accomplish that monster? At the same time, the writer I am now (and without the notebooks that I kept, that did explain some things I’ve forgotten) looks at the details and thinks “Could’ve used a smaller chisel there” and “Missed a spot with the stain.” And still at the same time, I’m still happy with it…for all the little things that 20+ years more experience would have done differently, the core of it still works. Changing a word here and a word there–not essential.

  • Comment by Moira — June 27, 2012 @ 10:47 pm


    I’m one of those strange creatures who are both artistic / creative *and* highly analytical (boy, am I one crazy, mixed-up kid!)

    All I can say, Elizabeth, is that your books appeal to both halves of my brain and always have done. So don’t sweat it, just keep doing what you’re doing.

    And as always – thank you.

  • Comment by Iphinome — June 27, 2012 @ 11:20 pm


    @Lady Moon
    The idea that something that huge could be written without a nice detailed outline confuses and terrifies me.

    But then I.. well I wasn’t an English _major_, it was my minor. Who could resist a few composition classes for the chance to get credit for reading Chaucer and Shakespeare?

    Too bad studying french and picking up bits of other languages can kill one’s ability to manage English spelling and grammar.

  • Comment by Richard — June 28, 2012 @ 4:04 am


    It’s not just story dynamics you gave to the DEED but a depth and sureness of characters and a richness of detail. If you’d been an English major you’d not have had the history to mine and distill for us. If you’d a large toolkit but no story you’d have been an editor not a writer, and we’d have been the poorer for it.

    If I didn’t know your old notebooks were missing, and didn’t know how much detailed attention you give your craft, I’d not so often be bringing back your words from the past to haunt you. At times I’m not sure how you put up with it. Anything you have to tell differently this time round, do so. It is a bit like going into the supermarket and finding the jams and marmalades have moved to a different aisle: I’ll soon get used to it.

    Do you remember now why you had two parallel Orders of knights in Fin Panir (Gird and Cudgel)? Paks told us she’d been nominally assigned to one of them when a paladin-candidate, but not which one, so the differences between them (if any) can hardly matter. As to why Fintha has knights at all, one possible reason I can see is that neither bashing people on the head with staves nor poking at them with pikes would be any good for Girdsmen on foot against horse nomads with bows riding rings round them.

    I’m glad to know I was on the right track regarding Knights of Falk being very different. I’ve come to imagine them as graduates of a college who if they’ve no family business or farm to return to, must go out into the world to seek a living. Whereas are novices in the Bells enlisting in an army for years (Tsaia’s Royal Guard, as its heavy cavalry and its officer corps) as surely as are recruits in Fox Company?

    We (your readers) have come to learn Paksworld’s customs the same way the people in it learn them: by example. As you said at the start of this thread, the problem is how to give Editor a concise shortcut to our (or rather, your) knowledge, without begging the question or going astray.

  • Comment by Richard — June 28, 2012 @ 4:24 am


    Two subpoints.
    1) as well as the German Navy viz-a-viz Royal Navy, how about the US Navy revival at the same time (Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet”)

    2) about the academic study of English literature: Asimov wrote a short story “The Immortal Bard”, imagining someone using a time machine to bring Shakespeare on an anonymous visit to the present day.

  • Comment by Richard — June 28, 2012 @ 5:40 am



    We all know this, but maybe Editor hasn’t picked it all up yet. If she has then no harm done retelling it.

    Lyonya has only one rank that we know of, which is Sier. (Aliam, to whom Sier Halveric has handed over his land but not his title, is “Lord Halveric”). Back in Oath of Gold a king once summoned to a special court session “all the Siers in Chaya, and the kyllan-siers of those who are not here”, but whether the latter term refers to an heir or to a delegate we don’t know.

    Tsaia has Dukes, Counts and Barons (descending order). Many Baronies are part of Counties but some come directly under the King. Putting my point from #58 the other way round, Dorrin Verrakai Duke of Verrakai is commonly “Duke Verrakai”. Jandelir Arcolin, currently odd-man-out for being Count of the North Marches rather than of Arcolin, is commonly “Count Arcolin”. A Duke’s – maybe a Count’s or Baron’s too – eldest son (heir) is a kirgun. About younger sons all we know is that one Duke’s brother was “Lord Verrakai”. What about grandsons? A nephew or cousin is a nigan.

    Aarenis (from where the magelords who set up Tsaia’s system came) has Dukes, Counts and Barons, but at least one Sier too (of Westland). He has barons under him because a renegade one hired out as a somewhat disreputable local mercenary.

    From the seafolk kingdoms of Pargun and Kostandan with their own language and traditions we know of one rank, translated as Count. Pargun has a Sagon of the West but this may be a royal military appointment akin to Constable in Tsaia.

  • Comment by Richard — June 28, 2012 @ 4:16 pm


    Here’s one last topic from me under the heading of customs of speech we’ve noticed that might interest Editor. (I hope she’s been following all this.) Again this is in the style of an exam answer, so anyone who spots a mistake for which to deduct a mark, please shout.

    By the way, (1) a brother or sister is a sib (never sibling that I recall, and not to be confused with Paksworld’s hot drink).

    (2) Dorrin calls Haron (the previous Duke Verrakai) her uncle, though I expect he was her great-uncle’s son and her father’s cousin. I’m taking it that in large families living together, all adult relatives (other than their parents) are “Uncle” or “Aunt” to all children. (I must say again how much I loved the moment Paks had taught the Verrakai children to say “Auntie Dorrin”.)

    The occasion: the Company paraded after a battle to give some soldiers the equivalent of a medal. The captain announces “Simisi Kanasson, who … Sim [did so-and-so]”. Notice both the patronymic and the shift from formal name on first mention to common abbreviation thereafter.

    Because Paks herself has a patronymic (Herself Fathersdotter as opposed to Himself Fatherson), Master Oakhallow at Brewersbridge – southeast Tsaia bordering Lyonya – guessed she must be from the northwest. Many characters (and casually-mentioned persons offstage) in the Company and in Fintha and Tsaia have patronymics.

    In Fin Panir there was talk of a Jori of Westbells and of an Elis of Harway: two placenames that happen both to be in eastern Tsaia, but whether that (rare in the books) form of name is particularly associated with that area I do not know.

    Other humans have personal first name plus family surname (not just nobles, but also ordinary folk like Mal Argonist the woodcutter). Those from noble families (royal ones in particular) can have second or even third personal names as well. Falkieri Amrothlin Artfielan, for example (we were never told the Lyonyan royal house’s surname to complete that mouthful).

    Half-elves (if they choose to follow elven rather than human ways, for example by becoming rangers, like Arian) do not use surnames.

    The same word can be both one family’s surname and a personal name for others (like our own world’s Scottish surnames Bruce, Douglas, Malcolm and Stuart); this isn’t a mistake. Ganarrion (Gan for short) and Serrostin are two examples.

    As in our own world, the same popular names keep circulating, leavened by some unusual ones (like Paksenarrion). Elven-inspired names have spread across the north to humans who’ll never in their entire lives see an elf.

    Even more than in our world (with Andy for Andrew, Bill for William, Tom for Thomas), long names in Paksworld get shortened. Like Paksenarrion to Paks, presumably so the Company sergeants could give orders quickly. By contrast the Fin Panir Hall’s steward wanted names long enough not to be mistaken in anyone’s handwriting.

    How to shorten a name is usually obvious (not so with Arñe for Arianya) but there can be alternatives: Paks, Pakse or Enarra for Paksenarrion; Falki (usually) or Kieri (there’s a little story behind that) for Falkieri.

    Different long names can have the same abbreviation. Selis is a boy’s name in its own right (in Tsaian noble families, Elizabeth has said) but a boy Seli can be a Seliam or a Seliast. In Gird’s time we had a girl called Seli. (Girls’ names and boys’ names have been discussed on this site before; suffice it to say Elizabeth knows which names are which, but there is little discernable pattern.)

    With hundreds of soldiers in the Company, those with the same first name are distinguished by nicknames more often than patronymic or surname: Black Sef, Bald Seli, Little Tam, Eyes (Suli, could be Suliya or Sulinarrion, because she was Stammel’s Eyes – guide – for a while). Even the captains know and except on formal occasions use the nicknames.

    Kuakkgani adopt special names like Oakhallow (who has a grove) and Ashwind (who wanders). Gnomes use first name, patronymic and –fulk (tribe). As for dwarves, we had for example Balkon son of Tekis son of Kadas, mother-son of Fedrin Harasdotter, sister-son he of the Goldenaxe.

    P.S. For anyone avoiding Spoiler/Speculation Space, by the way, comments #66 to #69 there are safe: they are about how to give Arñe her squiggle. Thank you.

    Moira, you think some of your posts are long! I prepared this one offline. If the subject of customs and culture into register isn’t exhausted, I am.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 28, 2012 @ 7:56 pm


    Richard, you are doing wonderful things, and I thank you. When I have time (raucous laughter from the peanut gallery, right?) I am coming back to pick these things up and stuff them in a file and then consider how to include them in the website. I’m not sure, just reading them piecemeal, what the best organization is. Feel free to share your thoughts when you’ve rested up from the labor.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 28, 2012 @ 7:58 pm


    I’m grateful, Richard. You’re not doing this in a snarky “Gotcha!” way, but in a scholarly way, and that’s deligfhtful.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 28, 2012 @ 8:23 pm


    Iphinome: I avoided English classes in college because the ones I had to take were so…well, they interfered with my joy in reading as much as they taught me anything. The creative writing class in my university when I was there was….not for me. (Genre writing was ridiculed and outlawed; the ideal was depressive self-absorbed angst by young white males convinced of their genius. Or so it seemed when I looked into it.) I didn’t want to analyze texts I loved, and I didn’t want to write stories about endless angst.

    The non-outlining thing works for some writers and not others. I think (but this is a guess) what it takes is a very very solid grasp of Story. Or maybe the irascible character in my brain I call my “plot daemon” really exists. He handles plot while I just report on what’s happening. Asking him “What next?” results in a tirade about my ingratitude and either a sulking fit when nothing comes, or a shower of plot bombs so fast I can’t write them all down.

    I just realized this past week that there’s a pattern here starting way, way, back in childhood. This is how I learn and do things…ignoring the neatly lettered signs that lead other people to their learning-goal, I jump off the track early, into the swamp, and bushwhack my way across country, arriving at whatever destination covered in mud, twigs, bug-bites, scratches and bruises, but…happy. Directions and maps are just for thinking where I might like to go. (I realized this in a conversation of knitting in another venue. Apparently it’s not the usual thing to decide now is the hour to knit socks, and then start knitting socks with only the vaguest idea of size, parts, connecting the parts…I figured I had the foot the sock was supposed to go on, so making sure the foot would continue to go into the sock as it grew would get the job done. Barring the heel, for which YarnHarlot provided excellent guidance and without a string of knitting jargon. In plain English, with wit. I did it with Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, tools and materials for making something (I made something else), fixing my bicycle, fixing a radio, sewing, painting, writing…whatever it is, it’s a deep structure and not one that schooling every dislodged.

    My friend Doranna Durgin has two beagles she runs in agility…one, Connery, is very focused and determined to be right. The other, Dart, is more like me…”Whee! New place! Jump, tunnel, A-frame…wow, sniff THAT…OK, yes, another jump…that was fun, let’s jump it again! Course? Everything in order? That’s silly–this is a dog playground!” Keeping Connery on course is just a matter of giving him the right cues at the right time. Keeping Dart on course requires constant correction, attention-getting strategies, etc. They both also do tracking…each with his own personality and thought structure behind it.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 28, 2012 @ 8:27 pm


    Moira: I have some analytical strengths–my mother was an engineer, after all, and I was brought up in it. My father’s also was an engineer, though he was no longer part of the family, so I’ve got that on two sides. I write pretty decent nonfiction with that side of my head, and am quite good at dissecting scientific/medical research and finding the holes. Enjoy it, even. It’s probably why the invented worlds hang together…stuff has to make sense to me.

  • Comment by Iphinome — June 28, 2012 @ 10:29 pm


    That’s it, focused and determined to be right. Everything in order, check the little boxes and fill it all out in triplicate. *happy sounds*

  • Comment by Richard — June 30, 2012 @ 8:31 am


    #67: kirgan, not kirgun. *bangs head*

  • Comment by Richard — June 30, 2012 @ 12:30 pm


    #69: have you picked up my e-mail a few days ago with the single list of quotes? For the rest, can Editor do the picking up from here as part of her homework, and produce crib-sheets for copy-editors? Since the whole thread started with you thinking about that.

    Girdsmen keep saying “Gird’s grace”. The quotes show that Falkians do sometimes say “Falk’s grace”, but that were anyone to say “Falk’s gut” or “Gird’s oath” for example, then copy-editor should be questioning the remark. That’s one thing the list is for.

    Does Editor recognise the cult backgrounds of all the characters I’ve attributed quotes to? If she doesn’t already remember that Dorrin is Falkian, and Arcolin Girdish, etc, that would be bad. One facet – I chose that word deliberately – of the series you handle so naturally is people from different cults, and cultures, rubbing along together. Sometimes turns of phrase rub off, and sometimes there are raw feelings.

    I’ve the scholar’s fault of wanting to include everything just to show how thorough I’ve been. For Editor’s benefit, I hope that’s good for clueing her in to the range of expressions available for nuances, and to some of the casual – throw-away almost – references that have enriched the books. On the website maybe not so good.

  • Comment by Richard — June 30, 2012 @ 12:49 pm


    Girdish knights (your #60) something I left out of my #65 (hadn’t seen it then):

    Girdsmen arguing about whether to have knights suggests a good political reason for, maybe even a political story behind, Fintha having two orders.

  • Comment by Moira — June 30, 2012 @ 5:29 pm


    @Elizabeth – Yes! Things have to make sense. My dad is also an engineer (and even at 84, still delights in quoting equations and imperial-to-metric conversions, and doing the calculations in his head…), and everyone always commented on how I was so darn logical even as a child. And that sits cheek by jowl in the same skull as the musician, artist, incurable romantic, yadda yadda. So I consider that a fine excuse, now and again, to throw everyone’s staid expectations to the wind and do something radical out of sheer whimsy.

    There’s not enough whimsy in the world, I always say.

    Just a quick note, in case anyone was going to post at me: the old Chinese curse has caught up to me and I’m living in Interesting Times. I hope to keep tabs on y’all for the next couple of months, but my contributions will most likely be sporadic. I’ll look forward to getting back in the swing of things in the fall (autumn, for those on the other side of the Pond). Have fun!

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 30, 2012 @ 7:32 pm


    If I understand it correctly (and haven’t worked through this in detail), one of the orders is for home-grown Finthan-Girdish knights, and the other is where they train other realms’ knights. The tuition, so to speak, is higher for non-residents.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 30, 2012 @ 7:35 pm


    Moira: best wishes for your Chinese-curst months. May you come back to us with good health, good news, and good fortune.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — July 1, 2012 @ 11:28 am


    I have never been able to produce an outline for anything written until after I wrote it. I could make an outline, but then what I wrote had nothing to do with it.

    On the other hand, outlines help me to go from the first draft to a finished product. I tend to wander off in every interesting direction, and the outline streamlines things so I can see the direct route and separate the side trips. But I don’t write fiction

    Richard, I am very much enjoying your collections of titles. Thank you.

    Incidentally, the Knight-Commander of Falk is addressed as sir – by Dorrin and Paks in Oath of Fealty. There is also a Captain-General of Falk,who seems to have very high rank in Lyonya (since he accompanies Kieri up the mound at his coronation). Hmm – I need to think this question through some more.

  • Comment by Richard — July 3, 2012 @ 7:26 am


    I forget where Elizabeth wrote about Marshal-General, High Marshals, Marshals and Yeomen Marshals of Gird; about the Captain-General, Captains and Sergeants of Falk; about Swordmasters and Blademasters of Tir – but it was somewhere in the blogs, some while ago.

    Tsaia has various posts including Constable, Knight-Commander of (the Order of) the Bells, Training Marshal ditto, and both a Marshal-Judicar and (never met) Judicar-General.

    Of gnomes we have seen a “most noble prince and law-warden”, an estvin and also (with Gird) a Lawmaster, a Warmaster and an Armsmaster.

    I see a potential problem with putting such lists up as background info. As a reader I can comment here, “this is all we’ve seen”. From you on the webpages it could come across as “this is all there is”, losing the sense that there is always more out there to wonder about.

    Similarly I can say “I don’t know how a female knight is called” but how can you say there that you don’t know yourself yet? (if that be still true) – simply because the question has never arisen except in the special cases of paladins and of Duke Verrakai.

    #78: the number of Knights of Gird we’ve seen compared to Knights of the Cudgel suggests the former are the locals who signed up for life, and the latter the rich kids e.g. from Guild League cities who’ll be going home to a military career in the South. High Marshal Suriest (whom we saw just once in Arianya’s office) is Knight-Marshal of the Cudgel, whereas High Marshal Connaught (the Knight-Marshal of the Order of Gird) came in several chapters and two books of the DEED, including the expedition to Kolobia.

    By the way, more head-banging from me: #68, NAMES. Seri not “Seli” as the girl’s name – I’d a blind spot there – but that still duplicates the diminutive from male Seriast. Its a real world. (Is the latter a southern name? The only one in the DEED was a small boy in Cha. What fun to be left guessing.)

  • Comment by Ginny W. — July 3, 2012 @ 3:05 pm


    Richard: Yes.
    The thing is that although there is a Captain-General of Falk, and he obviously has high rank in Lyonya, there does not seem to be a High Lord’s Hall in Chaya. The mound and the King’s Grove seem to serve that function, perhaps because of the elven influence. We have not seen anything comparable to the bone house in Tsaia or Fintha, although it seems to be common practice in Lyonya. And seems very natural in Lyonya, too.

    But then I went to thinking about Falk, and the Falkians, and their actual practice. Falk seems to be connected with the ancient mage-lords somehow, not at all with the old humans and their practices. Yet it is the old human practices that seem to actually dominate in the life of the king, given the regular visits to the bone house and rituals there. So I am wondering how the official Falkians process the old human customs, and whether their practices or teaching vary from the Falkian fields in Aarenis.

    On the other hand, so far we have really only engaged Falk and the Falkians through Aliam Halveric (Falk’s Oath of Gold) and Dorrin so far.

  • Comment by Richard — July 4, 2012 @ 4:35 pm


    Ginny, the way the Knight-Commander comes and goes we can guess that Falk’s Hall where novices under him live and train to be Knights is well within a day’s ride there-and-back from the palace at Chaya. For the rest – including whether the Captain-General lives there too, and the clerics (Captains) and paladins are trained in the same place – over to Elizabeth.

  • Comment by Richard — July 4, 2012 @ 5:31 pm


    Oh yes, one other thing we think we know about Falk: when Paks got to Fin Panir the Hall porter (Argalt) showed her a picture of “Falk with a sword and the tyrant of Celias” – a placename we don’t know so does that place Falk’s story in Aare itself, long before Gird?

    The picture was not one of the windows but one of the designs on the doors which had been remade hundreds of years ago (after “the Black Lady fought to the steps”) but that could still be since Gird’s time.

    Falk’s story stands in contrast to the magelord ideal we’ve heard about, of the ruler whom everybody else serves because his magery makes him the most charismatic. Old Humans if they knew about him would admire him as one who gave, but most magelords despise him for that very reason. So what does that tell us about when and where his cult rose to prominence, and to its present organisation?

  • Comment by Richard — July 6, 2012 @ 3:51 pm


    Elizabeth, my #81 re #78: I’ve just discovered there were more Knights of the Cudgel in Divided Allegiance than I remembered, so trying to infer which lot of knights you thought might be which is quite unwarranted. Sorry.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 8, 2012 @ 12:08 pm



    Could be it’s on “the other continent”? After all that’s where the slavers seemed to have taken Keiri so it’s possible another king’s son would wind up there.

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