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Historical Dialogue (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
Formal English hasn't changed as much in the last few hundred years as common speaking. My solution is to read lots of fiction written in whatever period and go off of that. But it's rarely quite right.

My own creations like "Bird of a Past Life" and "Lake Ontario" had inauthentic historic dialogue; but "The Sky Burial" (especially) and the first chapter of "The Fifty Move Rule" apparently had decent historic dialogue. With these last two I sometimes acted out the dialogue (as writers do) and talked in a manner that was mostly "normal" but with regard for the time period, rather than just being a book-worm and trying to reconstruct an impression I got from reading.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
My newest project is gothic literature It's not really 'historical' English but I think reflecting the time period and regionality is important. It certainly shouldn't have any obvious contempory-isms (or, in this case, Americanisms) that could throw a reader out of the story...

Beyond that, though, I don't think it's so important. I think this is the kind of thing writers tend to obsess over more than readers do. If anything, I would prefer for my dialogue to be slightly too modern and be otherwise natural in flow than to try historical/regional affectations and sound cartoonish. I mean, most historical stuff is actually slightly too modern in terms of dialogue. The way characters talk in stuff like The Tudors isn't remotely similar to how the actual Tudors would have talked. Because the audience would not understand the vocabulary, pronunciations, etc.

At the end of the day, even stories that seek to capture some earlier literary zeitgeist are still modern stories because they are written for modern readers. It's less important to be authentic to the period and more important to be authentic to expectations of the period, which are typically quite different and seldom revolve around insertion of a bunch of archaic vocabulary.

I suspect a lot of readers find the stiff, cumbersome dialogue of the past a detractor, if anything. I don't know of many historical fiction readers who dislike books on the basis of not sounding highly old-fashioned -- '1/5: Not enough thees and thous!'. Beyond the basic, obvious differences, unless your reader is some kind of academic, I doubt they're going to have a huge problem with fairly 'standard' dialogue in which the historicity is achieved through the meaning and not the words.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
That's true. You can go too far the other way and end up having thee's and thou's in a book set in the 1800's. I didn't even think about that.

Still, mentioning the "drawing-room" in a book set in 1818 (like my WIP) is way more authentic than "living room" et cetera. I think this counts as a basic, obvious thing (like you said).

I'll try probably to entwine the dialogue with objects of historical relevance.
 
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