Using modern language and slang in fantasy writing?

January 24, 2009 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

dialogueOne advice I’ve read more than a few times is: avoid using modern language in fantasy writing – in particular, in writing dialogue.

I’m just trying to gauge to what extent that advice applies – and if there are any exceptions or boundaries.

Of course, I understand frowning upon the use of modern terms, ‘hip’ phrases, abbreviated words, slang, etc  in stories with a historical context – because it’s inaccurate and takes the reader out of the context – but what about in fantasy?

After all, it is a fantasy story.  If the reader can suspend their belief sufficiently to believe that a world of sorcery and magical creatures exists AND that the characters speak English, then why can’t those characters use some modern language in their conversations?  Wouldn’t the modern reader be able to associate more with the characters?

This is one of the things that’s been troubling me in my own fantasy novel.  To what extent is using modern language acceptable?  My world is entirely fantasy – but it also has it’s own history; society and technology have evolved past the point of the traditional fantasy world (ie Tolkien’s) – where there are developed laws and economics and established systems of trade; things like book printing and time keeping etc.  It only seemed natural that their language would be slightly more modern too – but I don’t want to overdo it.

I’ve found myself using terms like “yeah”, “guy”, “mate”, “okay”, “whatever” without even really thinking about it – but I haven’t gone as far as using “gonna” or “wanna” or “y’all” because I just couldn’t see my characters using it.  What is the appropriate limit here?  Is there such a thing?