Plot Device Obsolescence, Part the Next

We’ve already talked about how new tech can make old plot devices unworkable (with cell phones being the primary example.)  But there are other plots and plot developments that time and social change have rendered, if not dead forever, at least unusable for the foreseeable future.

Consider, for example, the persistent suitor.  Used to be, you could play this one for comedy, as in the Warner Brothers Pepé Le Pew cartoons, or play it straight, as in the long courtship of Anne Shirley by Gilbert Blythe in the Anne of Green Gables series, or in the equally extended courtship of Harriet Vane by the titular hero of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

These days, not so much.  No matter how good the writer or how well-presented the material, a goodly portion of the readership is going to take one look at the relationship dynamic and go, “Ugh! Stalker!” and lay your book aside, possibly by throwing it against the nearest wall.

And what if your presentation of the relationship is well-written, firmly based both in character development and in historical and regional context, and unquestionably believable?  In that case, a certain proportion of your readership will call you out for knowingly perpetuating a harmful stereotype by making it look good.

Really, there’s no way to win on this one.

As usual, I’m not saying “Don’t ever go there.”  What you decide to write is your call, and nobody else’s.  But I am saying, “If your muse is telling you that’s where you absolutely have to go, then do it with your eyes wide open to the consequences . . . and be sure you do it well.”

Today’s Peeve

I thought for sure I’d mentioned this one before, but a quick search informs me that in fact, I haven’t:

People, be aware that you don’t “fire” arrows.  “Fire” is a term from gunpowder tech, and the days when the person in charge of making a bullet or other projectile come out of the business end of the weapon had to apply literal flame to the powder at the other end.

The proper verb for arrows is “loose” – as in, the arrow is set free from the drawn bowstring.

“Shoot” also works. The verb goes back to Anglo-Saxon scēotan, meaning “to shoot” (it was also applied to the action of throwing a spear, but mostly to bows and arrows – sceotend, literally “shooter”, usually referred to an archer.)  When firearms came along, the old verb carried over to the newest entry in the category of “weapons that work by propelling something through the air towards a target.”

But talking about “firing” arrows will lose you credibility points with every medieval-weaponry geek and archery purist out there – and there are more of them out there than you’d think.

Today’s Bit of Amusement

Found elseweb: The Cowboy Hávamál, or, Old Norse wisdom translated into Wise Old Cowpoke.  A couple of brief samples:

You’re a goddamned fool
if you think you’ll live forever
just because you won’t fight.
Say nobody ever kills you –
old age is no peach, either.


Don’t think you’re the goddamned smartest,
or the toughest, or the best at anything,
and don’t let folks think you are, either.
Otherwise you’ll find out the hard way
that someone is always better.

It’s one of the Three Faces of the Action Hero, which are like the Three Faces of the Triple Goddess, only different: The Kid, the Gunslinger, and the Wise Old Cowpoke. They can be seen all in one movie in the first Star Wars film, with Luke and Han and Obi-Wan (aka Old Ben) Kenobi, or serially over time in the television and film career of Clint Eastwood.