1. canadianmint
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    canadianmint Member

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    Historical fiction with modern language.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by canadianmint, Aug 12, 2009.

    I'm working on a YA fiction that takes place in 1890. Is it tacky to use modern dialogue? I find I want the reader to feel connected to the characters. The book already shows them authentic history thru setting, events, etc. I'm curious if could get away with familiar language so that the reader (who is most likely in grade 7) won't feel the book is too 'heavy'?

    I have dropped in a few "historical correct" phrases or tags.

    I want to do justice to history but respect the readers too.

    Any suggestions?
     
  2. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I think if you made the dialouge more accurate, but write the rest in modern english, it could work for your audience. I always feel the dialouge sets the tone of the story, for me anyway, and I could see it working. Just my opinion!:D
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    do your homework!

    go check several well-respected historical novels and see which you think works best for you, as a reader... then do whatever works best for both you and your story...
     
  4. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed, I thought I could write in a Victorian style until I read some of George MacDonald Frasier's Flashman, and he really wizened me up to some of the lingo. It's almost like learning another language, if you're writing historiacl fiction, even YA fiction, some sticklers for accuracy and details may be like WTF, modern language?!

    Karl Edward Wagner, writer of the Kane series inspired by the biblical Cain is ancient historical fiction thinly veiled as sword and fantasy (much like the Conan series of Robert E Howard). The cool thing was that Wagner used modern vernacular in his writing and may have inspired the dialouge used in the 'Hercules' TV series starring Kevin Sorbo. It was odd seeing Hercules talking like an average person at first, but the producers decided against dated language that combined with low budget would have looked like bad Shakespeare.

    It's up to you, but if you are doing Historical fiction, you will need to do research for all kinds of stuff besides dialouge, like their vices (snuffs) and entertainment (Penny Dreadfuls).

    Good luck!
     
  5. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    Using modern language should be ok, since using the exact same language will make the story extremely difficult to write and read. However, stay away from modern words and terms. Use updated words, but don't add new ones. For example, don't use the phrase, "Hit the road," if it wasn't used back then. Changing "thee" into "you" shouldn't be a problem though.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    "I sayeth to thee..."

    Gets really tiresome after 2 pages. All the characters will seem to have sticks up their rears.

    "Yo, listen up y'all!"

    Is annoying in any kind of context, and would make a historical novel seem like a farce.

    Use some kind of "neutral" english - neither particularly oldfashioned or distinctively modern. Oxford dictionary english.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Every time someone asks about this, I refer them to the movie A Knight's Tale, the Heath Ledger movie. It's got lots of modern language in it because they recognize that, for the most part, we know what kind of language they used when writing, but not how they talked, and everyone knows that people do not generally talk the way they write. They must have had their own versions of the modern phrases used in the movie, but we don't know what they might have been, so the writer use the modern ones.

    Now, being a rock-and-roll sports movie, their goal would be a little different than yours, and it's a very different setting than what you are using. Back when that movie was set, English was probably still more like Anglo-Saxon than what we speak now, since English came into existance as a common language between the Saxons and Normans.

    By 1890, they definitely would not have used any Shakespearean language. You only have to look at books published at the time to know that. Besides, he was as much a poet as a playwrite, so the way those characters spoke would not have been the way they did every day. You don't have to pile on the historically accurate language, but you should also leave out phrases that there is no way they could have known.
     
  8. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Look at the Anne of Green Gables series. The time line is at the turn of the century (similar to your time frame) and the language is not fully modern, but but just proper. Less conjunctions, better grasp of the English language than most people have today.

    Even books like Mists of Avalon, the King Arthur legend is supposed to be between 300 AC to 500 AC. The dialog, while not modern, it is not ancient dialect.

    When I think of 1890, I think polite and proper, or on the other hand dirty and gutter snipe-ish, with total improper language, think My Fair Lady.
     
  9. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    For the love of Zeus do not try and use a dialect that you don't speak naturally. I read a book which was a medieval/high fantasy theme and the author kept drifting in and out of 'olde' dialect. It was so distracting that I just had to put the book down.

    Think of Lord of the Rings and more specifically The Hobbit - despite the fact that they take place in the equivalent of 1088 AD England, everyone speaks just as they would have today, or rather when Tolkien wrote it. Sure Tolkien used words like "attercot" which don't make sense to us dimwitted modern Americans, but that was colloquial speech to him.

    Stay colloquial!
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not too much colloquial. Besides, the Norman invasion was in 1066, so English didn't exist in 1088. Knowing that, which Tolkien did, gives you a little more freedom for something set that long ago, languagewise. But that's hardly relevant in this case. There are lots of novels and plays from the late 1800s to give anyone a good idea of believable language of the time. My Fair Lady, which was based on one of those plays, is a good example. If it's set in England.

    Seta, remember that this is only 120 years ago that the OP is talking about, not the middle ages or earlier. Medieval fantasies are not the best examples to be using here. Just look at books like Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, which were published around that time. Certainly, the way we talk now, especially slang, and the way people spoke then, has changed, but not too much.
     
  11. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Piff. Details. My point was that there were horseman with ringmail armor (or armour if you prefer). The Rohirrim looked like Norse vikings while the men of Gondor looked like Greek knights. The technology and themes are very medieval and yet Tolkien wrote it in plain English of his time.

    :p
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure what you're arguing with, seta. The point was that it was easy to get away with whatever English dialect you want, which Tolkien did, since the language didn't exist. Which is, again, hardly relevant when you want to write something set in a time during which lots of books were published that we still have available to us.
     
  13. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I think I just confused myself. Ignore me!
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ok! ;-)
     
  15. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    *Giggling* That was kind of funny. You were arguing the same point Rei and I were making. ;) It's ok. I get confused sometimes too.
     
  16. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    English did exist in 1088, Rei. It's existed since about 500AD, although England was founded in 973.

    Anyway, I just translate how people spoke then into how they speak now: 'ugly is made of him' is 'ugly is made by him.' The meaning of the latter is more obvious, but it is not modern language.
     
  17. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aren't you being a bit picky, Gallow? I've heard the language that Beowulf was written in called Anglo-Saxon and Old English. I've seen examples of writing from before the Norman Invasion. Nobody would understand it unless they studied it at school. Even the Canterburry Tales are hard to understand.

    Talking about them like they were the same language, to me, would be like talking about Yiddish and Hebrew as if they were the same. Yiddish and Middle English are both like hybrid langauges. The language, whatever you call it, didn't begin to resemble something we would understand until long after the invasion and the langauge spoken combined French and Anglo-Saxon, and even a few other languages spoken in England. Yiddish is a hybrid Hebrew and German, with a little influence from a few Slavic languages. So in any way that matters in the context of this thread, the language we are writing in didn't exist until long after 1066.

    Quite the tangent, considering the OP was talking about writing something set in 1890.
     
  18. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes :D
     
  19. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    As far as my History class is concerned, English comes from Old Frisian and Lower Saxon. The languages were brought by the Germanic settlers and Roman auxiliary troops from what is West (East? Can't remember) Germany.

    Anyway, if someone had a story about Babylon, and wrote the dialogue reminiscent to the age and place, no one would understand it. So, we use our own modern language. However, as obvious as it is, it would be plain stupid to make the characters talk with modern slang (i.e. "How you doin' man?" the servant asked the Pharaoh).
     
  20. canadianmint
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    canadianmint Member

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    Oh, darn, must change my story then... kidding. :)

    Thanks for the input everyone.

    Anyone aware of any movies set in 1890 in America and not England? I'm spending so much time writing that watching a movie to hear the language might be more appealing to me than researching it through just reading books.
     
  21. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, a western

    Seriously, most are post-bellum (after 1860's) and before the industrial revolution.


    "And I reckon ya' might be able ta find a moving picture or two ta help ya":)
     
  22. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    Actually it is more difficult to do this than you would think depending on the era, late twentieth century wouldn't be too bad, but i was writing a 19th century set script and it just didn't work with modern language, if it sounds fake, don't do it
     

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