Author Topic: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories  (Read 1175 times)

Tony_A20

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Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« on: February 20, 2012, 09:32:29 AM »
This is one of the more difficult problems writers encounter. Word usage should agree with language as used at the time of a story, or at least meet reader expectations of the language as it was spoken during the story period. Allowing modern words and phrases to creep into a story will immediately destroy any suspension of disbelief.

Here, http://sappingattention.blogspot.com/2012/02/making-downton-more-traditional.html, is an example of how insidious this problem is.

Tony


Offline 510bhan

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2012, 09:59:31 AM »
Interesting article. I do think there needs to be a balance, many earlier expressions and turns of phrase could be lost to modern readers because the vocabulary is archaic and obsolete. Certainly, howlers where the wording refers to artefacts and inventions/ideals out of time would be terribly off-putting.
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Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2012, 10:19:26 AM »
I haven't read this paper yet. However I know Shakespearean plays were chalked full of anachronisms.
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Offline C.M.

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2012, 06:29:11 PM »
When Shakespeare produced 'Julius Caesar' he dressed his soldiers in Elizabethan uniforms and equipment because his relatively unsophisticated audiences would not have recognized a Roman soldier if they saw one. It's all about giving the audience what they want. Today's readers know the difference between a Roman and an Elizabethan.

When I was only reading historical fiction, I always disliked the characters who had modern personalities and philosophies. Then I started writing historical fiction and learned how hard it is to excise the modernisms. It's possible to turn a sympathetic character into someone the reader fails to identify with simply by making the character in tune with his times. For instance, a medieval lord who kept his serfs in their place would have been admired in his own day, but to modern readers he comes across like an Ebanezer Scrooge. But to recast the medieval lord as one who cared about his serfs' well-being would make him an anachronism. How do you make a character like that historically accurate and still be someone modern readers will like, identify with, and root for?

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Offline Taylor

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2012, 07:40:48 PM »
A tough one. You could always make them like, identify with, and root for the serfs' instead.  :)

I'll be copying and filing this article for future reference. Thanks Tony.
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Offline Don

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2012, 08:25:01 PM »
The first duty of a writer (assuming sales numbers and another contract are important) is to meet or exceed the expectations of his/her target audience.

If you write a story set in a particular era and get everything exactly correct in terms of language, but confuse the hell out of your target audience in the process, what have you gained? Readers stop reading, sales drop and you can kiss your contract goodbye.

It reminds me of he epitaph: Here lies John Doe. He had the right of way.

Write in the language your readers expect. A few references to the particular time period will be sufficient to keep disbelief suspended. This is exactly what Shakespeare did and, in retrospect, he did okay.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2012, 09:15:15 PM by Don »
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Offline Annmarie

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2012, 03:42:22 AM »
As the writer of a historical (1946 isn't that far back, tho), I found that article pretty interesting. It was also nuts. If I second guessed every single phrase that came out of the mouths of my characters, I'd never get the story done *and* my readers wouldn't know what was going on. It's especially fun since my characters usually don't speak English in the story. So I'm translating period German into a roughly equivalent period English. *And* each character speaks according to personality and social class. Of course it'll sound too modern to some people. I do check as many phrases as I can, but I rely on my intuition for the rest. As people said, do we really want Macbeth speaking in a real Scots accent? I don't think so. A little license should be allowed as long as it's not blatant mistakes like mentioning technology or medical terms that didn't exist in the story's period.
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Tony_A20

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2012, 09:51:30 AM »
I don’t think writers need to use archaic language just to be correct.

Quote
Word usage should agree with language as used at the time of a story, or at least meet reader expectations of the language as it was spoken during the story period.

But it is important not to use words a reader will recognize as inappropriate because their origin is from a more modern context.

If, during the editing process, an author is in doubt whether words or phrases originate at a later time than the period of the story, the questionable passage may be checked here: http://books.google.com/ngrams


Tony

Offline wanderer

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2012, 12:01:02 PM »
Thanks Tony, a nice tool that I have now been playing around with and using it  ;) It even does the curse words and slang which are important to me (old west stuff).
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Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2012, 01:54:00 PM »
Shoot yeah, I'll add this to the link-list if its okay. (I'm assuming it is)  :-[


http://www.mywriterscircle.com/index.php/topic,33128.msg551583.html#msg551583
« Last Edit: February 21, 2012, 01:56:28 PM by Skip Slocum »
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Offline ma100

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2012, 05:25:40 PM »
This is what I am going through at the moment with my ghosties. I have an 18th century gay poet, a scottish soldier from the first world war, a victorian London showgirl and more. I am trying to get each of their voices as correct as I can with usage of a few of the words or phrases at that time, but leaving most words as todays usage. For instance when my dandy throws a paddy, balderdash and pshaw are used. He wouldn't say , bugger, like the scottish soldier, or ruddy like the victorian show girl. I try not to over do it because as you read it can grate.

I do tend to look to see if props would have been around or called something elses at that time. Sullivan calls a radio, a music box. I feel you do have to show things from their era, even though it is now present day. Whether this is right or not, I haven't a clue.  :-\

Offline wanderer

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2012, 06:29:39 PM »
Quote
I feel you do have to show things from their era, even though it is now present day. Whether this is right or not, I haven't a clue.  Undecided

I know with the Historical fiction you just have to use a "little" language of the period to have a successful date stamp, and of course all the "props" must be of the period. FYI
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Tony_A20

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2012, 08:54:30 AM »
I recommend writers avoid “dating” their stories as much as possible unless a story is part of a recognized genre where the reader is specifically interested in the story period: western, tall ships, 18th-century romance, medieval, etc.

Even if a story takes place at a time when the language or situation was different from the present, keeping the story as modern as possible will make it more acceptable to readers.

A good story is a good story regardless of the time the story takes place, but tying a tale to a specific era by mentioning props, locations, or uncommon language, can quickly outdate a story, which would otherwise have a much longer appeal for general readers.

Unless the point in history is vitally import to the story and an integral part of the plot, I believe it is better to set stories at an undefined time, and keep the story focused on the characters and their desires rather than on extraneous factors.


Tony

Offline Lizzie D

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #13 on: February 23, 2012, 05:45:58 PM »
As a writer of mostly historical fiction, I do find the enormous amount of research necessary for getting all the dates and facts straight, incredibly time consuming. However, I do enjoy it and often learn a great deal along the way.

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Offline wanderer

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Re: Keeping Dialogue Synchronized With Period Stories
« Reply #14 on: February 23, 2012, 06:15:30 PM »
Quote
As a writer of mostly historical fiction, I do find the enormous amount of research necessary for getting all the dates and facts straight, incredibly time consuming. However, I do enjoy it and often learn a great deal along the way.

I agree and while some might find the research tedious, I enjoy the heck out of it. So much to learn and it seems one subject unwinds into other threads and those unwind into even more  :)
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