Old fashioned dialogue

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medussa74
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Old fashioned dialogue

Post by medussa74 » June 9th, 2011, 12:19 pm

Calling all historical fiction, fantasy, and otherwise otherworldly authors.

My current wip is fantasy, set in a world roughly resembling the Elizabethan period. and I do mean roughly-its fantasy after all. However, a problem I seem to be having is my dialogue is too contemporary-sounding. Without resorting to thees and thous, any suggestions on how I can give my dialogue an old-timey feel? I don't want to loose my perfectly contemporary audience, after all.

thanks!

hektorkarl
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by hektorkarl » June 9th, 2011, 12:46 pm

Studying the patterns and rhythms of the era's speech can be helpful. Focusing on words that were used back then (but are still understood now). Both of these tactics can give the older feel without reader frustrations.

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Beethovenfan
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by Beethovenfan » June 9th, 2011, 12:49 pm

I had that same problem with my historical fiction. I wanted it to have an old language feel to it without the language getting in the way. Read some Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters and get a feel for how the rhythm of the language flows differently back then from today. It's long enough ago to sound very different from today's everyday speech, but also close enough that it doesn't sound too foreign, like Shakespeare. Good luck!
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by dios4vida » June 9th, 2011, 12:57 pm

These are just my observations and not at all authoritative or necessarily good ideas:

Sentence structure. Elizabethan dialogue used longer, more flowery sentences. I remember reading some of the classics and wondering if it was possible for them to say anything without having to have at least one comma and a few adjectives per sentence. This could be really dangerous if overused, though, because it could drag the pacing down and seem like weak writing. If done well, though, it could really help with the atmosphere. (So yeah, pretty much what hektorkarl and Beethovanfan said :).)

Proper decorum. Elizabethan gents would never dream of addressing a woman by her first name, or even something more casual than 'Ms. So-and-so.' Having the social mores like that could impart a old-fashioned feel without it having to be "I pray thee grant an hour of thine precious time to accompany me" - it could be as simple as "Madam So-and-so, would you join me for dinner?" even when the reader (and the gent) know her name is Jane.

Umm...I'll chime in again if I think of any more.
Brenda :)

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CharleeVale
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by CharleeVale » June 9th, 2011, 1:33 pm

Modern speech uses a lot of contractions. In my fantasy WIP I found that just dropping any and all contractions made the speech sound a little more archaic.

Another trick I used, is that I always imagined that I was speaking in front of royalty. Somehow, older and more formal language comes easily when you think it might be read for the Queen of England. :P

Good luck!

CV

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medussa74
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by medussa74 » June 9th, 2011, 2:01 pm

Thank you everyone, these suggestions do help. More formal speech seems to be the consensus, however...
CharleeVale wrote: Another trick I used, is that I always imagined that I was speaking in front of royalty. Somehow, older and more formal language comes easily when you think it might be read for the Queen of England. :P
Except, so far, most of my characters are peasants. Formality with simpler words would work for the upright peasant, but I have a few characters that would be more likely to flip off the queen if they were standing in front of her. So...any thoughts on how to handle that one?

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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by Cookie » June 9th, 2011, 2:25 pm

medussa74 wrote:Thank you everyone, these suggestions do help. More formal speech seems to be the consensus, however...
CharleeVale wrote: Another trick I used, is that I always imagined that I was speaking in front of royalty. Somehow, older and more formal language comes easily when you think it might be read for the Queen of England. :P
Except, so far, most of my characters are peasants. Formality with simpler words would work for the upright peasant, but I have a few characters that would be more likely to flip off the queen if they were standing in front of her. So...any thoughts on how to handle that one?
Hmm... I am going to second reading books that were written in that era. This is a later period, but maybe Alexander Dumas? D'Artagnan spoke a little coarser than the others.

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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by dios4vida » June 9th, 2011, 2:57 pm

medussa74 wrote:Formality with simpler words would work for the upright peasant, but I have a few characters that would be more likely to flip off the queen if they were standing in front of her. So...any thoughts on how to handle that one?
How about some colorful idioms or other such phrases to add flavor? Nothing says "I'm a peasant, you're the Queen, you suck" in Elizabethan better than "beetle headed, flap-eared knave" or "elvish mark'd abortive, rooting hog." Those are courtesy of Shakespeare, who by the way was the absolute king of insulting someone with higher language. Maybe some Shakespearean research could help. His peasants - both courteous and insulting - might be just the kind of tone you're looking for. And if you can create some unique curses in your fantasy world to sprinkle in, that always helps. I'm reading the Dragonlance books right now and the dwarf's favorite curse is "Reorx's beard!" It adds flavor and character without being a copy of anything. In my WIP I have characters who've lived underground for their whole lives and their cultural curse is "Troll's blood!"

Maybe?
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by Matt Phillips » June 9th, 2011, 3:02 pm

I'd definitely echo the suggestions to read period primary sources - also some novels set in the period if you trust the authors. I've been keeping a running list of period expressions and trends in speaking/writing as I read sources from my period. I'm writing in the 18th century English-speaking world, and Samuel Johnson's dictionary is a godsend. There's probably a similar "dictionary" of Shakespearean/Elizabethan vocabulary and idioms you can consult, albeit probably compiled centuries later.

But I wouldn't expect to nail a period voice in the early drafts anyway. What you can do is go back in the revision phase and sprinkle in judicious amounts of period vocabulary and idioms so you evoke the atmosphere without resorting to "gadzookery."

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medussa74
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by medussa74 » June 9th, 2011, 4:20 pm

Thank you so much! You've all given me much to think about. I think I have a much better handle on this now (I think)

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Rebecca Kiel
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by Rebecca Kiel » June 23rd, 2011, 12:39 pm

I would research dialect and speech patterns on the time period I would like to mimic. This would give me enough information to have some depth to what I am choosing so that it doesn't come across sounding transparent.

I have done this in flashback scenes that go pretty far back. I'm pretty sure my great-grandmother would not have used the word "so" quite as often as we hear it these days.

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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by Leila » June 23rd, 2011, 2:06 pm

Great suggestions everyone!

The only thing I can add would be to look at it from a cultural, gender and character perspective. For example, you raised the issue of peasants. I'm assuming that around that period peasants may not have had the same educational opportunities as others? Therefore their language may not be as smooth/polished/refined? Perhaps their sentences are shorter? Who they associate with might impact their overall manner and ability to interact with others outside their own 'social' circles. Would females tend to be shy in 'company'? Where would they live? What is their immediate environment like? What sort of family lives do they have? How do they live their values? How do those values connect/blend/disconnect with the overall dominant culture? Does that impact the way they relate/communicate/form relationships with people?

I wouldn't worry about losing your audience as such, I'd worry about the characters being so entwined in and so true to the story and their natures being represented as naturally and holistically as possible that an audience couldn't help but be drawn in. Period of time and all!

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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by JohnDurvin » July 2nd, 2011, 12:05 pm

My suggestion: get on Netflix or something and watch some British TV set in the time-period. A lot of the actors, writers, and directors have degrees in the stuff, and they can pull stuff off that no American could make up. It doesn't even have to be a drama--Blackadder (second season) is the first thing that came to mind.
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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by Writecastlesinthesky » July 15th, 2011, 10:04 am

JohnDurvin wrote:My suggestion: get on Netflix or something and watch some British TV set in the time-period. A lot of the actors, writers, and directors have degrees in the stuff, and they can pull stuff off that no American could make up. It doesn't even have to be a drama--Blackadder (second season) is the first thing that came to mind.

I second this suggestion. Point of fact, none of us really are educated enough to know what would be truly authentic but film as a medium when done well can convince of a time period using language. I haven't seen Blackadder but Pillars of the Earth http://www.the-pillars-of-the-earth.tv/ was very informative for life in the English Middle Ages. Not quite your time period but close enough to give you a back history of where your characters are coming from.

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Re: Old fashioned dialogue

Post by polymath » July 15th, 2011, 10:31 am

Thee and thou and ye and yon and so on are derivatives of languages with genitive cases. Formal and informal, high Latin and vulgar Latin, for example. Genitives mark status and relate to register: superior to subordinate, subordinate to superior, peer to peer relationships. That's just one example of how language has changed and old languages and cultures might be accessible in our Postmodern times when genitive cases are not everyday norms of communication.

The Great Vowel Shift marked and influenced the transition from Middle English to Modern English. Vowel sounds changed to make the language more pleasing to the ear and more in conformity with European continental ideals. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the Historia Regum Britanniae in Middle English about the time English transitioned from Old English to Middle English. It is a good example of the language at the time, diction, syntax, spellings too. Middle English pronounciation almost spontaneously takes place while reading it. Of greater usefulness is the insights into the culture that reading ancient texts provides, not just historically insightful, but culturally so from how perspectives are informed.

A good example phrase of a Middle English pronunciation, say, Out and about the house. In nothern dialects the vowel sounds are pronounced higher than modern conventions, lower in southren dialects. Southren: Oot 'n uh boot the hoose. Northern: Oat 'n A boat the hause. Why lower in the south? Lower accenting dialect for flat countryside ease of communication from more marked visual annunciation. Northern for hilly, mountainous terrains. Higher sounds' sharpness carries clear farther when lips can't be seen moving.
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