Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Language Barriers

As a writer of historical fiction, one of the more important areas to 'get right' is that of language. How the characters speak and what they say is vital to transporting the reader to the time and place.

I love this portion of the process, but it makes for slow going in many cases. My current protagonist uses a great deal of underworld slang of his day. Those around him use different language of the day, depending on their place in society. And it needs to be right or it rings untrue to the reader's mental ear. Too much dialect can be tricky to read, too little and you have no real sense of the characters. It's a slippery slope to traverse.

So, I tend to write the dialog as close as I can to the time period, and then go back and replace it with the appropriate wording and cadence for the character and the time. The wrong word can create a barrier to belief for the reader. Too many wrong ones and the reader's lost interest, at best.

Of course, getting it right requires research. As I've said before, I love the research portion, too. But, my goodness, the time it takes. One page can and does take me what many days seems like hours to get completed. And this is just for the first draft.

Ah well. If I wasn't doing this, what would I be doing with my time?

I'll tell you. I'd be reading books and cruising websites looking for interesting facts, that's what I'd be doing. It's an addiction, this love of language and writing, it really is.

J.M. Grant

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dialect and slang are slippery creatures. If you don't use enough, the reader doesn't 'get' the flavor you intend. Too much, and it bogs the reader down. Slang, especially, is difficult. If the meaning can be inferred from context, that is great. Otherwise the reader is scratching their head, wondering 'what did he say?'.


March 18, 2009 at 10:28 AM  

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