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Posts tagged ‘author Anne Perry’

Using Language Specific To The Setting Of Your Novel, by Anne Perry

I agree with Alice from Alice in Wonderland: I don’t like a story that has no conversation.  But in what sort of language will your characters speak?  Will it be correct to the time and place of your story?  Well we can completely forget those set in ancient Egypt for a start, and countries where people speak a language other than our own.

The question really is, how about those who spoke our language (in my case only English, I’m afraid) but in a different period of time?  Vocabulary, references, even grammar change over a few years, never mind centuries.  And dialect changes from one area to another, over a very short distance in older countries.  And what do you do if your characters travel?

The choice is between being accurate and being understandable.  My belief is that if the reader doesn’t understand, if not exactly then at least approximately, then you will lose them.  Writing is, above all, an art of communication.  Some meanings can be guessed at.  In other places meaning doesn’t matter, it only adds colour, and if not understood will not spoil the story.  This might be the case with dialect words, and they can add a great deal of individuality to a setting or a character.  The same can be true of accent.  I suggest just a few altered sounds as enough to indicate difference.  You don’t want a reader stopping every few lines to try to work out what the word is.  Never break the spell, if you can help it.

Actually that just about sums it up.  If you confuse the reader or make them leave the story to look up a word, then it isn’t going to work.  You are trying to involve them, make them think and make them care.  You are not trying to confuse them and impress them with your scholarship.  If you want to do that, write a text book.

You need variation in vocabulary from one character to another.  Sometimes it takes a few re-writes to secure that – at least it does for me.  Some people use few words, some many.  People have favourite expressions, and so on.  (For heaven’s sake, don’t pepper it with ‘Gadzooks!’  or such phrases.  Did anybody ever say that?  With a straight face?)

The difficulty is to avoid neologisms, i.e. modern phrases we now use naturally, reference to events that have not yet happened, and the language that will come from them, inventions and discoveries not yet made, dishes not yet invented, music not yet written, countries not discovered (or re-named) fabrics and materials not invented – you get the drift.

I remember having someone’s heels click on linoleum – then wondering if it was even invented at the time, or, if it was, that it would be too new and expensive to be in the income level of the house I was referring to.  I looked it up and it was fine – but it might not have been.

My agent draws a little skull and crossbones sign on my manuscript where I have used a modern turn of phrase.  It happens now and then.  They are in my thoughts.  There is also the issue of modern grammar.  (There is no such word in English English (as opposed to American English and other forms of English) as ‘gotten’.  (Well-bred Victorians would say ‘I have’ rather than ‘I’ve got’.)

They are small things, a word here and there, but then an extra teaspoon of salt in your food is a small thing – but it ruins the flavour.  It is the sort of error you take care of when you re-write.  Polishing, tidying up can be fun.  Make it the best it can be.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

A Christmas HomecomingAcceptable LossSlaves of ObsessionThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three Novels     Wounds of Honour: v. 1 (Empire)Quest

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

On Methods Of Travel In History (And Historical Fiction), by Anne Perry

One of the biggest differences over time is methods of travel. That includes the travel of words and ideas as well as of people and goods.  Today we can watch events on the other side of the world as they occur.  When studying to write my Byzantine story I was a bit shaken to learn that a letter sent from Constantinople (Istanbul today) could take six weeks to reach Rome.  If it were replied to immediately, it would still be another six weeks before it got back.  That is if the weather were reasonably favourable and no one met with bandits on the way overland, or storms on the sea part of the journey, or worse: pirates!  Then you could forget the whole thing!  This was one good reason for wanting to appeal to local church authorities and not to the Pope.

Conversely, in late Victorian London you could write a letter to someone else in London at breakfast time and expect to receive an answer before dinner that same day.  You certainly can’t do that by regular mail now.  It would take a couple of days if you’re very lucky.  Unless you want to spring for a messenger, of course.

For news, ask yourself: Were people dependent on a man on horseback, or in a wind or oar-propelled boat?

For letters, ask yourself: Who had paper? Who could read and write?  When and where were there envelopes?  When and where were there sealing wax and signet rings?  These might be minor details in your story, but they matter.  It isn’t getting it right so much as not getting it wrong.

When did telegraphs come in? What about semaphore flags?  What about smoke signals or drums?  What about telephones?  Who would have one?  What did it look like and how did it work?  i.e. direct dialling or through an exchange?  What about mobile phones, text messages or e-mails?  If you make a mistake, there will be someone who knows and will no doubt tell you.

There have been pamphlets for centuries.  When were there newspapers?

As for personal travel: slow, dangerous and uncomfortable covers a lot of it, but we need to be far more precise.  We need to be accurate in description, and vividly realistic in what it felt like.

What about ships: from canoes to ocean liner, wind powered (very dependent on weather), steam powered, oil/petroleum powered or nuclear powered? What sizes were the relevant kind of ships?  Some of them that circumnavigated the world were tiny, only a few paces from one side to the other.  Present day luxury liners are floating cities.  They are all like islands surrounded by perhaps thousands of miles of water, alone in a unique way.

What about planes: from tiger moths to jumbo-jets, and all points between?  Again, they are like islands, but in the sky.

On the ground, there is an almost endless variety of travel methods. There is underground railway, which thrived in London in later Victorian times.  There is surface railway, all over the place, some very pedestrian and some marvellously exotic like the Orient Express or the railroads across India.  Get times, stations and prices right.  That still leaves the whole world of horse drawn vehicles, from pony carts to omnibuses, not to mention other animals – dogs, oxen, camels and so on.  Last of all, people have their own legs as a method of travel.

Travel can be uncomfortable.  There are not necessarily any conveniences available.  There may be no privacy.  There was very little heating in most forms of early travel.  You would carry your own means of warmth or heating, if you could.  There may have been inns of one sort or another, but not always with room available.  Lodgers may have been required to share a bed. There may have been dangers of weather and, equally unpleasant, of pirates, brigands or highwaymen.  Not to mention simply getting lost.

Even with our present occasional delays and discomfort, we have more to be grateful for than many realise.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelSlaves of ObsessionA Christmas HomecomingThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three Novels     The Mathematics of Love (P.S. (Paperback))True Soldier GentlemenEscape by Moonlight

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Establishing Time And Place In Novel Scenes, by Anne Perry

The reader needs to know as soon as possible, at least roughly, when and where the story is taking place.  Unless told otherwise, we tend to make assumptions and then are put off if they turn out to be wrong.  If we are drawn into the story, we picture the people and the places, probably drawing on what is familiar to us already, and invest the characters with our own feelings.  It breaks the emotional link if we have to rub it out and start over again.

There are ways of telling the reader.  Some are very unsubtle, like putting up a heading, e.g. Berlin, 9th November, 1938.  That tells you something very precise, but does it make the hair stand up on the back of your neck?  It does if you know that it was a night of horror that has become known in history as ‘The Night of Broken Glass’, a turning point in the persecution of Jews just before World War ll.  We are not all historians, nor do we all have memories with such exact retention.  Anyway, telegraphing it ahead like that is a bit clunky.  It is better to feel it, and there are several ways to achieve that.  We need not only to know, we need to feel it, and to care.

An observation about clothes can help.  Is your hero wearing breeches?  Or a toga?  Chain mail armour?  A military redcoat?  A burnouse?  Has your heroine a puritan collar, a lace ruff, a farthingale, a floor-length gown by Balenciaga?  And so on.  Such things can also give useful information like occupation or social class – not to mention sartorial taste!

Transport can be very telling, particularly the time it takes to get from one place to another.  A car?  What make, and what speed?  A hansom cab?  A post chaise?  A fiacre (you don’t get many of them!)  A sedan chair?  A tumbril (don’t get many of them either, thank goodness!)  Trains – The Flying Scotsman or The Orient Express?  An Aeroplane?  What is the condition of the roads – indeed, are there any?  (Signposts are a bit of an obvious device.)

Street lights?  Gas or electric?  Lanterns?  Rush torches with tar and flames?

What can you hear?  Wind, waves, machinery?  What can you smell?  (You don’t need to be too graphic about that!  We have less tolerance to bad smells than we used to.)

Domestic surroundings can be pretty good, such as furniture, fabrics, lighting and types of fireplace.  Are there windows, and do they have glass in them?  You can use any of these (but not all of them!), without it clogging up your first few paragraphs.  Domestic equipment can be excellent.  Use the flat iron while you are having a vital conversation!  Or stoke the fire, do the laundry, vacuum the floor etc.  Do you turn on the tap for water, or go out to the pump in the yard, or fetch from the well.  That will ground you in the here and now – or the there and then, as the case may be.

Food is good too, it can be very particular to time and place, and social position.  What is for breakfast, and do you make it for yourself?  Porridge, then devilled kidneys, tea, toast and bitter marmalade?  Or pancakes and maple syrup, OJ to drink?  Fresh croissants and a small, strong coffee?  You get the idea.  The reader is informed by tasting, seeing as the characters do.  They are not told where they are, they simply feel it.  Exactness can come later, when it is needed and fits in naturally.  Enjoy your journey.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelAcceptable LossSlaves of ObsessionA Christmas Homecoming     Spartacus: The GladiatorThe Sultan's Wife

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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