Yes, I know, Tony Curtis never actually said the line. But does sum up one of the problems this morning’s editing is trying to address – language that is meant to create a mood of fantasy and wonder and instead simply comes across as formal and forced.
First, a caveat. This passage is taken from a ways into the story. I’m assuming that many of the questions that naturally come to mind – who and what the air-travelers are, how they arose so soon after a nuclear holocaust, how prophesies work in this world – are answered by what came before.
But even with that caveat in mind, we can pinpoint a mistake common to fantasy writers. Most fantasies take place in worlds based roughly on the middle ages, with swordfights and alchemy and yonders dotted with castles. In trying to create a language that fits that kind of world, many fantasy authors come up with an amalgam that is simply stiff. Contractions tend to disappear, for instance, answers nearly repeat the question (“Are you The One?” “I am not The One.”), and word order is reversed often for no reason apparent.
It is possible to write in a language that feels genuinely medieval, with a rhythm and emphasis different from what they are today. But in this case, the story is set within living memory of the present. Senior (a character’s name) was an adult when the bombs fell, and both books and some technology, which doesn’t seem radically different from modern technology, have survived. The language wouldn’t have had time to evolve much, so it makes sense to simply have the characters speak a colloquial, modern English.
Keeping the language colloquial also helps with a second problem – the author isn’t getting into Great’s head as well as she should. Great (the main character) is apparently going to give up being an air-traveler in order to help the people of Liberty. In order for readers to understand what that sacrifice means to her, they need to know more of what it feels like to be a traveler. They need to know, at a visceral level, what she’s losing.