Watch your language in historical novels.

When my generation was growing up parents instructed us to watch our language or we would have our mouths watched out with soap. I rarely watched my language, however, my mouth was soap free. I don’t know what a soapy mouth would have tasted like, but it would not have cleaned up my language.

I write fiction. My first e-novel is set in 1911, the second in 1922, and the one I am working on is set in 1927. Now I must watch my language with vigilance, taking nothing for granted. I won’t wash out my mouth if I make a mistake, but I will whack myself in the head.

I am not talking about foul language but about words we take for granted, words that may not have been used in the historical era in which the story is set. For example, my main character is a writer for movies. I knew in 1922 with silent movies there was not really a script, but a continuity scenario. With no dialogue the only thing to truly write was the title cards.

But with the transition to sound in 1927 with the “Jazz Singer” requiring more detailed scripts full of dialogue should I use the word “screenwriter?” Despite the success of “Jazz Singer” which had only four scenes of improvised dialogue by Al Jolson, silent movies were still made for a few years. The transition to “talkies” was not instantaneous.

In the early chapters of my work in progress I used the word “screenplay” six times. My mind was in the present historical age using a word I have used a thousand times in writing film reviews for ten years, reading the word a thousand times and speaking it another thousand times.

That is why as a writer once must never assume certain words we take for granted were used in the era you are writing in. Honestly the word “screenplay” was an easy one to correct. It came out in proofreading. But other words one must research like you research everything for your story. So when in doubt Google a word, searching for its usage, when it came into the language, learn everything about it so it is used correctly for that era. And don’t be surprised if you find out that in 17th century England no one watched television.



1 Comment

Filed under dalies, e-book publishing, Uncategorized, writing

One response to “Watch your language in historical novels.

  1. I agree with you–mostly. Some words make no sense to us moderns and in those cases I use what I consider an equivalent term because in the end we’re writing in 2014. 🙂


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