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Like a Bottle in the Smoke…Times are a Changing by Diana Flegal

I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet I do not forget thy statues. Psalm 119:83 KJV

Psalm 119 is one of my favorite chapters in the bible. When I read familiar passages in the bible, I look for what I might have passed over in my many readings before.

This week I saw the above verse, and decided to look deeper into its meaning.

The commentators concur that this is speaking about a wineskin (bottle) and the way its outside appearance changes over time with use and when hanging in a smoky home. They related the passage to the effect the Psalmists trials had had on his appearance.

Like a bottle in the smoke…a relatable word picture for those living in biblical times—but thrown into a contemporary manuscript, it wouldn’t pack the same punch and will only serve to confuse your reader. Fun for you since you know it’s meaning, but not a recommended writing practice.

Both nonfiction and fiction titles find success in their relatability and believability.

Unless you’re writing Biblical fiction, refrain from using words out of the King James Bible to paint a word picture unless they are still in use today (Judas meaning a betrayer), or it is the everyday verbiage of your character and part of his ‘stick’, and even then, always keep your reader in mind.

One other result of ‘changing times’ is the use of old historical figures by name. Yes, there are a few that will most likely always stand out, like the Wright brothers. But some historical people’s names escape the younger readers though they might recall the events.

Lizzie Borden is one.

Lizzie was tried and acquitted for the 1892 axe murders of her parents.

My parents were most familiar with her history and used to sing a song about her when they were younger. “Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks…” My familiarity with her was second hand, and my son? I doubt he would have any knowledge of her if I asked him.

There are a few exceptions where using remarks about Lizzie in your story or nonfiction title would be appropriate and that is if it had bearing on your topic. For example; if your protagonist was a lawyer or a forensic scientist, they might use Lizzie’s trial as an example of a case precedence, or the way NOT to gather evidence. Some backstory would be needed to make it relevant and help the reader understand the motivation of the writer to include the information.

It would NOT be appropriate to mention your protagonist was a distant relative of Lizzie Borden in a single sentence and then move on. Some people like me might say, “Ahh, interesting” then keep reading, and others will say, “What? Who is Lizzie Borden?”.  Unless it has a clear connection to your point or storyline, refrain from using forgotten historical figures in your writing.

As Bob Dylan so aptly sang, “the times, they are a changing”—all the time.

5 Comments

  1. Donna Rhine says:

    So true, Diana!
    In skimming over your title, I almost didn’t read the article because it appeared to be off. It is so huge that we refrain from anything that would cause our readers to say, “What?” The last thing this author wants is to be laid aside because of confusing words or phrases.
    I was once told that in writing ‘Historical Fiction’ I should only reference a Bible that was in print during the novels time period. I was so glad to learn from other writers that this is not always wise.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Donna Rhine

  2. I never understood the bottle in the smoke. Thanks for sharing.

    What do you think about regional expressions? For instance, ‘flatter than a flitter,’ is an expression in Kentucky. Should you add that for color to your story, or leave it out not to confuse the reader?

    Thanks so much!

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