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Language, Timothy ...

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Jimithyh

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My W.I.P is set in 16th Century Tudor England and I find myself not only seeking out appropriate language for my characters but also writing with words that have existed since the 1500s. It feels right to do so, but I wonder if I am making more work for myself, or perhaps even dating the tale before its even seen the light of day.

Anyone else have similar experiences?
 

Paul Whybrow

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It's a problem I had when writing my first novel, which featured a serial killer who'd been turned into a killing machine by conscription as a boy soldier in the Bosnian-Serbian wars of the 1980s. A theme of the novel was desensitisation towards violence, how appalling incidents become part of the entertainment industry, with onlookers more likely to take out their phones to video car crash victims than to rescue them—sadly, this has actually happened.

To get this point across, I was tempted into referring to various atrocities in the conflicts over the ages in Bosnia to explain my villain's lack of empathy. This would have meant lots of footnotes in a conventional printed book, but as I'd just discovered the joys of hyperlinks in ebooks I ended up with lots of highlighted words. This looks awful and puts the story into forbidden 'tell-not-show' territory and is an info-dump too. It made me more of a history lecturer than a story teller.

In the last couple of years, with another novel completed and another one on the way, I've decided that if a reader using a Kindle or other e-reading device wants to find out more about an unusual word or historical reference, then they can highlight it themselves and right click to search Google.

C.J. Sansom writes historical thrillers set in Tudor times, which have more humanity to them than the much praised Hilary Mantel. His modern way with language jarred a little when I first read it, after the formality of Mantel's phrasing, but I prefer it. I care about Matthew Sheldrake and his friends more than the precise characterisations of historical figures in Wolf Hall.

C. J. Sansom: The Official Website - Shardlake
 

Robinne Weiss

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An assessor once told me that I should remove all "real" info from a novel, because "if the reader is interested, she'll look it up." I wondered if that was actually true, and then my son mentioned that he was intrigued by a mention of a disease in my book and looked it up. Woo hoo! It works.

But this is getting off the subject, isn't it? The question is about the use of language. There is definitely a sub-genre of novels set in a historical period and written as though they were written in that time period. If it's done well, it can be delightful, though I'm sure you turn off many potential readers with it.
 
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K.J. Simmill

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There's something similar in writing fantasy, genuine speech is definitely important. It would be inappropriate for my eothads, who speak a different native dialect, to know outside colloquialisms, or for any of my characters to drop into Stoke on Trent dialect "a'right luv just nipping up town duck. Want owt?" Lol. Anyway some things don't belong in writing (I don't talk like that by the way) that includes in the narrative. One of my alpha reader's jobs it to highlight anything that sounds local so I can amend it, in the same way your native would need to reflect the time. I read a lot, I like a book using little used or forgotten words. It adds authenticity to the story, but the key is in moderation. Enough but not too much.
 
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