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Delectability
03-04-2011, 06:47 AM
Hey AWers,

Here is a question that I would appreciate if you could answer for me since I didn't see this mentioned anywhere on your site and don't want to throw agents off when it comes time to send off my query.

What are the limitations of common knowledge?

The better portion of my manuscript is about Ragnarok and at some point in my working query I mention it.

So while going around the AW and QT forums,one of my critiquers has stated : (Who or what is Ragnarok? I'm left guessing and guessing isn't good.)

I figure you would know better. I assume what is common for some isn't common for others, but where do we make that distinction?

I'm sure someone else has posed this question, but I couldn't find anything on it.

Becca C.
03-04-2011, 07:57 AM
Am I supposed to know what Ragnarok is? Because I have no idea.

Ask 10 random people you don't know very well if they know what it is. If the majority don't, it's not common knowledge. Shoot for 7 or 8 out of 10. That's what I'd do.

Jennifer_Laughran
03-04-2011, 08:04 AM
Well I know what it is, but I would seriously doubt that MOST people do. I don't think that details of Norse mythology beyond "Thor" would be considered common knowledge by the majority.

Why not say something like "blah blah blah Ragnarok (the Norse battle of end-times)" or "blah blah blak Ragnarok (the fabled Twilight of the Gods)" or something... like, just explain what it is in a quick way that will not offend people who DO know, but will clarify for people who don't.

Royal Mercury
03-04-2011, 08:24 AM
I figure you would know better. I assume what is common for some isn't common for others, but where do we make that distinction?

We are born and we die. Beyond that, I'm not sure you can assume that any given reader will know what you are talking about no matter what the subject. Though Mothers, Fathers, friends, oxygen and food are pretty safe bets.

frimble3
03-04-2011, 08:35 AM
What Royal Mercury said. I know what Ragnarok is, but I'm the only person I know who does. I wouldn't mention it to a friend without a bit of an explanation.

Jessianodel
03-04-2011, 08:42 AM
I know there's a manga titled that...
At least I think it's manga. It might've been something else. It was a foreign comic book. And only now that I saw the reference did I sort of understand the connection because I remembered some of the character names as well.

Common Knowledge changes based on your audience. College students majoring in biology will know a lot more about Delphinus delphis than someone who grew up on a farm.

tko
03-04-2011, 09:08 AM
If you're only going for the FF market no need to explain.

Jennifer_Laughran
03-04-2011, 09:16 AM
If you're only going for the FF market no need to explain.

LOL -- errr -- speaking of not common knowledge -- what is the "FF Market"?

benbradley
03-04-2011, 10:01 AM
I don't know Ranganrok, and I thought FF was Flash Fiction (it is, but apparently that's not what FF is in this context). Even as Google being my very, very personal online friend, I'm still not sure, though I didn't actually go to any of the links returned yet. From the context of the short quote of the second link below (and surely that page has a "disambiguation" link where one can find multiple uses and thus sort them out), FF means Final Fantasy, which is some sort of game:


Ragnarök - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragnar%C3%B6k)

Ragnarok is also a summon used in many of the Final Fantasy games, even being a central plot point ... Look up Ragnarok in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...
But no, I didn't know that. Medievalist surely knows, but then she knows just about everything known about civilization before the printing press was invented.

I guess you have to take into account your audience. Is the novel aimed at certain people with specific knowledge? Regular SF readers will know what an Ansible is, but others will have to learn it from the context of the writing. As far as agents, if they publish work in which readers generally know the word or concept, the agent will know too.

But then, to double-check whether you're tossing in arcane knowledge you should post your query in SYW and see if anyone says anything, which sounds like what you've already done and that's what brought this question up.

dpaterso
03-04-2011, 10:10 AM
So when you say "What are the limitations of common knowledge?" you're really asking, "Do you know what Ragnarok is?" :)

Heck yes, everyone knows what Ragnarok is! Or I do, anyway, thanks to reading Marvel's The Mighty Thor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor_%28Marvel_Comics%29) during my thoroughly wasted youth.

JL's suggestion above would seem the way to go!

-Derek

Jennifer_Laughran
03-04-2011, 10:24 AM
So when you say "What are the limitations of common knowledge?" you're really asking, "Do you know what Ragnarok is?" :)

Heck yes, everyone knows what Ragnarok is! Or I do, anyway, thanks to reading Marvel's The Mighty Thor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor_%28Marvel_Comics%29) during my thoroughly wasted youth.

JL's suggestion above would seem the way to go!

-Derek


Yeahhhhh but it seems that there is also some OTHER Ragnarok that has to do with "final fantasy" -- which might or might not have anything to do with OUR, PROPER, ACTUAL Ragnarok... is the original poster talking about THAT???


ahhhhhh!!!!

Becca C.
03-04-2011, 10:48 AM
Or maybe FF is fanfiction??

dpaterso
03-04-2011, 11:36 AM
Methinks Final Fantasy is just muddying the waters. Sure, there's a ship called Ragnarok in the game, and a major weapon goes by that name too (gamers, feel free to correct!) but there is only one Götterdämmerung. :)

-Derek

Terie
03-04-2011, 12:05 PM
Well, whatever IS common knowledge, I think the answers in this thread show that 'Ragnarok' ain't. :D

BTW, I've known that Ragnarok is the final battle in Norse mythology, but only for about the last five years. To put that in perspective, I'm 50, fairly well educated, and somewhat widely read in the fantasy canon. And the Final Fantasy Ragnarok? No clue at all, as I don't play computer games. So if, by any chance, I happen to be at all representative of your target audience, I think you can safely assume that a meaningful percentage of readers won't know.

Whichever meaning of Ragnarok you mean, a simple throw-away phrase such as Jennifer suggested is all you need. Once someone knows, they can always look up more info if they're interested, and if they're not, at least they have enough to go forward reading your story.

ETA: Oops! I missed the part where you were asking about your query, not your manuscript. :D But I'll leave this here anyway.

Polenth
03-04-2011, 12:41 PM
I expect most fantasy agents will know, but it wouldn't hurt to do what Jennifer suggested.

Purple Rose
03-04-2011, 01:20 PM
Best not to assume anything. As a lot of people have pointed out, what is common knowledge to five people may mean nothing to 5,000. If you are targetting a niche market, one so narrow, then you would also be looking at a small number of agents. On the one hand, you don't want to waste precious query space on explanations if you don't have to. On the other, you don't want to put prospective agents off with an "unknown" character. I think if you are clear about your target market, no explanation required.

Rowan
03-04-2011, 03:05 PM
Well I know what it is, but I would seriously doubt that MOST people do. I don't think that details of Norse mythology beyond "Thor" would be considered common knowledge by the majority.

Why not say something like "blah blah blah Ragnarok (the Norse battle of end-times)" or "blah blah blak Ragnarok (the fabled Twilight of the Gods)" or something... like, just explain what it is in a quick way that will not offend people who DO know, but will clarify for people who don't.


This... while many people won't know what you're referring to, you don't want to offend those who do. ;)

jclarkdawe
03-04-2011, 05:16 PM
Common knowledge in a query is a hard thing to define, and the line can be difficult. Ideal trick is to make something questionable obvious from the context or be meaningless if readers don't know it.

First problem with a query is that agents will be the readers and agents are above average readers in knowledge and ability. Most of them are college educated, and all of them are extensive readers. So you have to elevate common knowledge to their level, to avoid wasting words.

Second problem with a query is that you may want some level of specialized knowledge. If the BFF in your book causes LOL, IMHO or maybe just IMO, you might want to make sure an agent knows up front about that and avoid the agents that need to get out a texting dictionary to translate your book. Something that is common knowledge to a specific group might matter.

One example of this is if you write alternative history. If the agent doesn't have some idea what the War of the Roses was about, then they are probably not going to get your book if it features an alternative history to the War of the Roses. You might want to limit agents to requesting partials to those who do have some knowledge about England during that period.

Third problem in a query is that defining something might really throw off the flow or voice. You might have to live with something causing some level of confusion to some people because you can't figure a way around it. Querying is a matter of compromises, and you have to be aware of that.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Anne Lyle
03-04-2011, 05:34 PM
I would expect an SF&F agent to know what Ragnarok is, and not have to explain it in my query. These people are highly educated and old enough to have read widely in the genre.

In a book, I might explain it briefly, or at least make it clear from context. Unlike agents, readers are going to vary widely in age and breadth of education. It's a tricky balancing act, though, as SF&F readers tend to be very bright so you don't want to talk down to them.

I wouldn't expect either group to know the name of the squirrel who gnaws the roots of Yggdrasil :)

Mr Flibble
03-04-2011, 06:16 PM
/geek

Ratatoskr

/end geek

Well, not quite. We learnt about Ragnarok at school (and it was discussed at home too), so I've known about it quite some time. Like Anne, I'd expect (most) SF&F agents to have at least heard of it (though if you can slide it in subtly, go for it), but would put some context in the book itself.

Susan Littlefield
03-04-2011, 07:22 PM
I don't know who that is. I like Jennifer's idea of clarifying within the story what is not common knowledge.

Anne Lyle
03-04-2011, 08:07 PM
I don't know who that is.

Not who, what. Which rather makes the point :)

(It's the Viking myth of the end of the world. Twiglet of the Gods and all that.)

Hillgate
03-04-2011, 09:07 PM
Thanks - now I know what Ragnarok is and I didn't until a few seconds ago :)

IceCreamEmpress
03-04-2011, 10:38 PM
Being able to do quick explanations like this elegantly is a useful skill. "Only Jane can stop Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle of the Norse gods, and she has just three days to do it" or similar.

I had a professor in college who was one of the most learned people I've ever met, and he used to do this wonderful thing like so, "You may remember Saint-Just, the French revolutionary who headed the Committee on Public Safety; well, Saint-Just wrote..." and so on. Of course almost none of us remembered Saint-Just, if we had ever heard of him in the first place, but he just melded the explanation right into his conversation and we all felt a little smarter for it.

Delectability
03-04-2011, 11:55 PM
Thanks to everyone for responding. Yeah I didn't think about gearing it towards a niche target group for my agents.. (that might be something I want to look into to other than maybe Epic Fantasy) what would I gear it towards (but that's probably something for another forum post)

Ratatosk would be considered uncommon knowledge to me because I had to learn it as an adult.

In my query the only thing I mentioned was Ragnarok and there's a whole bunch of stuff I skipped...

Thank you JClark and Anne Lyle, I agree with you guys but I see everyone else's opinion... so it leaves me with this:

"Ragnarok, the end of days" more of a swing towards Armageddon so that it doesn't throw off everyone..

I really appreciate all the comments. I guess like everyone says the best thing to do is be brief like JL suggests.. appreciate it guys.

I'd like to know if anyone else has had this problem with another subject?

Karen Junker
03-05-2011, 03:23 AM
Yes, I write paranormal romance with a witch as a MC and several people who have critted for me didn't know what Beltane was, or several other witchy things I included in my ms. As a reader, I have a lot more patience than some people for finding out what something means if I don't know it right away. Also, I am not above stopping to look something up if it's new to me.

Susan Littlefield
03-05-2011, 05:14 AM
Not who, what. Which rather makes the point :)

(It's the Viking myth of the end of the world. Twiglet of the Gods and all that.)

Oopsie Doopsie. :D

Thanks for clarifying.

Susan Littlefield
03-05-2011, 05:18 AM
I just looked it up. Now I know what IT (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/r/ragnarok.html) is!

Very interesting.

Sage
03-05-2011, 07:21 AM
Haha, I just had to cut something from my query because enough people told me they didn't get the reference. Luckily, in my case, it was just a bit of voice, not actually a part of the novel.

david_v
03-05-2011, 08:13 AM
The closet thing I would say that defines common knowledge is whatever is required in grammar school. And that is stretching it. My WIP is about a seismologist. A assume everyone knows what that means because it is covered in every Earth science course in grammar school, middle school, and high school. Most people should have at least heard the term at some point inthe their lives. Similar things can be said about other topics. Once you get to special areas you can't make to many assumptions. Not everyone MUST take a mythology course. Just an example.

David

Synovia
03-05-2011, 08:35 AM
Well I know what it is, but I would seriously doubt that MOST people do. I don't think that details of Norse mythology beyond "Thor" would be considered common knowledge by the majority..


I think it really depends on the age group you're targeting. I'd be very surprised if you could find a male who owns a gaming system (playstation/xbox/nintendo/etc) who doesn't know what Ragnarok is. Norse mythology is very heavily exploited in modern videogaming.