Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Lessons from My Editor: Historicalness, Don’t Take It for Granted

Red and the Wolf, my novel coming out in April, is set in 1435 in Germany, or, more accurately, The Holy Roman Empire which ruled the area at that time. When I got back my last round of edits, my editor informed me that my language was too modern and that I needed to go back through and eliminate modern words and phrases or I needed to give the book more of a timeless, fairy tale feel. For a girl who has all too frequently been accused of being too archaic in her writing, I was taken aback.

I sought advice from four separate people that are familiar with my writing before I figured out how to handle the situation. All of them thought the book already had a decent historical tone, if not precisely period. The easy choice would have been to go for the timeless feel. It would have required just a few simple edits and been over in an afternoon or less. However, I’ve never been one to take the easy path just because it’s easy.

After some serious thought, I decided to make the book more historical in its language for a variety of reasons, including my future plans as an author, but primarily because I just couldn’t picture the story as truly timeless. So I informed my editor of my decision and set to work on the most grueling week of edits I’ve ever known.

To correct the problems, I had to first comb through the whole manuscript and identify words and phrases that might be too modern, look up their etymology as best as a non-linguistics specialist could without internet access most of the day, and find appropriate alternatives. The first step gave me a list of words and phrases 21 pages long. The second step took hours and hours and resulting in me hunting through three separate online dictionaries to find everything. Even then, there were occasional words and phrases that I could only guess at because I found them nowhere. To my surprise, the last step, thanks to Word’s Find feature, was the fastest and easiest.

The one thing I learned most from this was that I had a lot more modern words and phrases than even I would have dreaded. A huge chunk of my 21 page list didn’t need changing, but a notable percentage took me by surprise. It taught me not to take my historicalness for granted, that even as an “archaic” writer, I needed to pay attention to the details on a word by word basis.

At least, along the way, I learned a few fun things about words. My favorite: The word bedroom first appears in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. As none of the play actually takes place in a bedroom and Shakespeare is famous for his dirty humor, I found this quite hilarious.

 Do you have any interesting word origins you know of? What is your opinion on the historicalness of language in a historical romance?

For a great example of an author that uses language and dialect very well, check out TheSpymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne. Amy Raby has a great review on it.

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