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Post by annis » Sun November 3rd, 2013, 6:16 am

Another point to consider if using words from another language to add atmosphere to a historical novel is the need to be familiar with that language or else have the work vetted by someone who is. I remember wall-banging a book set in Renaissance France that was liberally sprinkled with French words and phrases so incorrect it would have been laughable if it hadn't been so darned annoying.
Last edited by annis on Sun November 3rd, 2013, 6:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by EC2 » Sun November 3rd, 2013, 12:19 pm

[quote=""MLE""]Writers seem to forget that a story is for the reader, not the characters. That's why oral storytelling keeps me anchored in that very important fact: try telling a story where the audience walks away![/quote]

Your coment MLE and Rosemary Sutcliff's wise words hit the nail on the head for me. That work you gave us the link to Rowan, is an interesting experiment, but I think will only find a minute, niche market. I hope he's got the right idioms and dialect for Hereward's area of England at the time!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal


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Post by Madeleine » Mon November 4th, 2013, 7:39 pm

I'm enjoying A Great and Terrible Beauty, but some of the language....would a Victorian headmistress have referred to someone as "your new room-mate"? Or on joining the school, say (admittedly with a touch of sarcasm) that she was joining "the Spence family" (Spence is the name of the school).?
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Post by wendy » Thu May 1st, 2014, 1:25 pm

[quote=""Madeleine""]I'm enjoying A Great and Terrible Beauty, but some of the language....would a Victorian headmistress have referred to someone as "your new room-mate"? Or on joining the school, say (admittedly with a touch of sarcasm) that she was joining "the Spence family" (Spence is the name of the school).?[/quote]

This is an interesting issue and something HF writers struggle with all the time. To answer your immediate question, the word "room-mate" has been around since 1770 (according to Merriam-Webster) and joining "the Spence family" does not seem an inappropriate statement. However, the fact that it jars you as a reader is an unfortunate problem! This particular book was published by Random House so will have been thoroughly screened for inappropriate modern language by one of the editorial staff (the major advantage of not self-publishing).

My own pirate book was criticized for using the word "ditty bag" which an ill-informed reviewer claims was a term not used until c 1860. She presumably checked Merriam-Webster, who based their assumption on the first written evidence appearing in Admiral Smith's book of 1867. However, I had carried out a much more extensive search, finally coming across an article by Louie Bartos (Master Sail-maker) who traces the origin back to the Oxford English Dictionary's reference to the similarly-used word "dight," common in general speech since at least 1580. So even M-W doesn't always get things right!

As readers we demand the language stay as authentic as possible. As writers we try our best to accommodate.

Perhaps the other writers out there can explain how they approach this tricky issue?
Wendy K. Perriman
Fire on Dark Water (Penguin, 2011)

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Post by Lisa » Thu May 1st, 2014, 1:42 pm

[quote="Madeleine"]I'm enjoying A Great and Terrible Beauty, but some of the language....would a Victorian headmistress have referred to someone as "your new room-mate"? Or on joining the school, say (admittedly with a touch of sarcasm) that she was joining "the Spence family" (Spence is the name of the school).?[/quote]

"Room-mate" would jar me as a reader in this case because nowadays, I believe it's a predominantly American term (just checked and the book is set in England). Or we don't hear it much north of the border at least :p

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Re: Language

Post by CelticBlood64 » Thu January 31st, 2019, 9:44 am

That is what I do, largely. Why depict ancient events with a modern viewpoint and language. Seems to me to defeat the purpose. You are an inhabitant of the time ... that is what you are aiming for ... to become that time and place.

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Re: Language

Post by ellisael » Thu April 7th, 2022, 8:38 am

I think this such an excellent question esp because so many potential stalwart authors of historical fiction do not even attempt it because of their fear of not being able to capture the language of the era. I think Hamilton as a musical really does such a great job of playing with it- there the language is not as important as the register and storytelling of the particular era- at the end if the language doesn't break the spell that the author is trying to create- i, as a reader, would not be too put off. Another great example is Parable of the Sower ,wherein Octavia Butler uses language to negotiate the era

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Re: Language

Post by Gurkhal » Sun July 30th, 2023, 3:55 pm

I'll add my own thoughts from reading, and a little writing, that I think that an author should avoid slang when writing historical fiction. Nothing takes me out of a historical story like modern slang.

Instead I would advice to use proper English and see if you can find some texts, at best if you can read the language of the time and place but otherwise translated into English along with historical fiction written about the same time and place. The goal would be to get a feel for the voice of that time and place so that you can chose words and craft phrases that has the right feel to it. The point of reading other historical fiction is both to read know a bit about what else has been written and perhaps do a bit of stealing if you find an author who has a really good voice for th time and place.

Naturally there's ALOT more to it but this is what I personally would advice in regards to writing historical fiction, beyond the normal advice for writing in general.

Also remember: Orginality is not a substitute for quality

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