Wednesday, September 08, 2004
  How to distract your readers

I've been reading Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, and am almost finished with book three, The Dark Design. I completely agree with the reviewers at Amazon.com who comment on Farmer's “asides” that give him a chance to include his own philosophy, thinly disguised as a character's thoughts, dreams, or whatever. The later Terry Goodkind books have the same flaw. So, to you budding writers out there, avoid this error.

But, frankly, even more distracting to me is the ridiculous attempt at multiculturalism (I can only assume) by including most measurements in both English and metric system, or both 12- and 24-hour time. This results in ludicrous phrases like:

Jill had assumed, along with everybody else she knew, that the mountains were from 4564 to 6096 meters high.

What? Nobody assumes such ranges with figures like that. They'd say something like “4500 to 6000 meters [or metres?] high.” Or worse:

On the average, The River was 2.4135 kilometers or a mile and a half wide.


The first mate, Tom Rider also known as Tex, stood about 5.08 centimeters or 2 inches shorter than Frigate's 1.8 meters or 6 feet.

About 5.08 centimeters? Are you sure it wasn't about 5.080036 centimeters?

Whatever the merits of inclusivity, this is not one of them. Please, if anyone reading this (is anybody reading this?) is thinking of writing, never, never, never do this.

(That said, I did notice that the Ensign has started including metric system estimates (in parentheses) where relevant. They do a much better job than the above quotes.)