Category Archive: Writing Historical

Guest Post: High Fantasy Vs. Epic Fantasy

Welcome guest blogger Sara Letourneau! We connected with Sara on Twitter and through the many places she blogs (see bio below). Sara is super friendly, upbeat and knowledgeable, especially about writing fantasy, so we’re thrilled to have her here today to shed some light on the differences and similarities between high fantasy and epic fantasy. Take it away Sara!

Wands Vs SwordsFantasy literature can be challenging to navigate. Its sheer number of subgenres – and the increasingly blurry lines between them – has the potential to overwhelm even long-time enthusiasts. However, once one understands the subtle differences between these subgenres, it can lead to “a-ha” moments for readers and writers alike.

So, how does high fantasy differ from epic fantasy? When are you more apt to see wizards or warriors, magic wands or swords? And which classic stories are considered high, epic, or both? Let me light a torch and illuminate them for you…

What Is High Fantasy?

In truth, high fantasy isn’t a subgenre, but a classification of the amount of fantastical elements present in a story. With high fantasy, the world is comprised of strange or mythical aspects not found on Earth. Cultural, political, and other types of rules might also differ from those we’re used to. In other words, the more removed the story world is from the “real world” we know, the more likely its story would be called high fantasy. (FYI: The opposite classification is low fantasy, which is set in a more Earth-oriented or recognizable setting, and allows the fantastical and “real world” elements to interact more often.)

The defining element of high fantasy is its setting. Regardless of the time period (past, present, or future), the story’s world must be a “secondary” world, or an imaginary setting created by the writer.

From there, high fantasy can include any (but not necessarily all) of the following elements:
· Magic or sorcery, either with a system of rules (“hard” magic) or a more mysterious, nebulous presence (“soft” magic).
· Invented languages, either included in the text or implied in the narrative.
· Fictional humanoid races such as elves / fairies, angels, or merfolk.
· Mythical creatures such as dragons, griffins, or anthropomorphic animals.
· In some cases, the ability to travel between the real / primary world and the imaginary / secondary world (e.g., portals, rules allowing select characters to make the journey).

NarniaC.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA is a superb example of high fantasy. Narnia teems with fictional beings, including talking animals (most notably the lion Aslan), dwarfs, unicorns, gnomes, and creatures from Greek mythology. Magic also abounds here, with the ability to thwart the rules of nature for good or evil. For instance, Queen Jadis (a.k.a. the White Witch) condemned Narnia to an eternal winter that thaws with Aslan’s return.

Narnia’s most enchanting element, however, is its portals. From train stations (Prince Caspian) and paintings (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), to literature’s most famous wardrobe, numerous gateways allow children like the Pevensie siblings to travel between Earth and Narnia. This emphasizes the separation between the real world and fantasy, while thrilling its readership with the idea that a magical world could be only a closed door away.

Other Examples: Ursula K. Le Guin’s EARTHSEA CYCLE, Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLES, Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy.

What Is Epic Fantasy?

One of fantasy’s most popular and timeless subgenres is epic fantasy. It combines history and legend to tell a tale that excites and entertains. Sometimes it involves a quest. Other times, it focuses on politics or war. Whatever the plot may be, epic fantasy is always massive in length (usually over 100,000 words, though 120,000+ words isn’t rare) and scope.

In fact, scope is what sets epic fantasy apart from other subgenres. The main focus is the plot, allowing the writer to show how the conflict impacts the story world at large. Also, older epic fantasies tend to exhibit a clear-cut “good versus evil” theme, while more recently published examples often explore moral ambiguity through realistic, complex characters with competing motivations.

Other defining aspects of epic fantasy are:
· A story world in a medieval or historical setting, and can be either invented by the writer or based on real cultures and places.
· A large cast of characters, either with a single protagonist or multiple points of view.
· A reliance on subplots to help advance the story, leading to a complex overall plot.
· Action using swords, archery, and other weaponry that is sometimes violent or graphic in nature.

georger.r.martin-asongoficeandfireDid anyone think of George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF FIRE AND ICE saga while reading this list? Both the books and its hugely popular TV adaptation Game of Thrones epitomize epic fantasy. Set in the fictional medieval world of Westeros, this series offers a panoramic view of power struggles between several families, with threats from an exiled princess and supernatural forces on other fronts. It’s intricately plotted, brutally bloody, and mammoth in scale and cast size – and the stakes keep mounting with each book and season.

While Game of Thrones’ subgenre is clear, fans have debated its classification (high fantasy vs low fantasy) for years. Personally, I’d say Game of Thrones is low fantasy. Sure, you’ll find dragons, ice zombies (a.k.a. White Walkers), and religious figures who use magic for prophesying or resurrections. However, Martin’s intent with the books was to create a realistic world that focused less on the supernatural and more on characters, war, and politics. The result is a post-magic society where people no longer believe in mythic forces and beings – until proven otherwise. This skepticism is also reflected in the TV show.

Other Examples: Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series, Terry Goodkind’s SWORD OF TRUTH series, Robin Hobb’s FARSEER trilogy.

So… Can a Story Be Both High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy?

Why not? We distinguished Game of Thrones by both subgenre (epic fantasy) and “fantastical” classification (low fantasy). The same can be done for other fantasy stories. So, it’s entirely possible for a novel to be both high and epic fantasy.

LOTR Cover

And what better example is there than J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS? In fact, anything from his Middle-Earth legendarium could be called epic high fantasy. This beloved secondary world features magic, numerous fictional species (wizards, hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs) and creatures (dragons, giant spiders, demons), and invented languages. And with The Lord of the Rings in particular, Tolkien uses multiple points of view to tell of the quest and battles fought in order for unlikely allies to destroy The One Ring. See how many boxes we ticked off for both types of fantasy?

 

Remember: The main keys of high fantasy are an invented world and a high number of supernatural or fantastical elements. For epic fantasy, it’s all about a long-ago setting and a scale of, well, epic proportions. They won’t always collide during a single story – but when they do, the results can be magical and magnificent.

What are some of your favorite fantasy subgenres? How about some of your favorite stories that demonstrate high or epic fantasy, or both?

sara-2015_full_med

 

 

Sara Letourneau is a Massachusetts-based writer who practices joy and versatility in her work. In addition to revising a YA fantasy novel, she reviews tea at A Bibliophile’s Reverie and contributes to the writing resource site DIY MFA. Her poetry has been published in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two anthologies. Learn more about Sara at her website / blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/guest-post-high-fantasy-vs-epic-fantasy-recognizing-when-a-story-fits-both/

Retro Robin: You Are Mistaken, Mr. Darcy: How to Use Literature to Build Your Fiction Vocabulary

We’re running retro-posts for Robin while she’s moving into her new house. Hurry back, Robin, we miss you!

PridePrejudice423x630The ability to mass produce books gave birth to the popular novel, the Bronte Sisters, George Sand and perhaps one of the best-loved novelists of all time, Jane Austen. Since Austen’s first book was released over two centuries ago, people have studied her work. We love her books because they’re packed with social humor and memorable characters. They’ve been copied, adapted for media, and countless modern writers have expanded on her universe with new plot twists. For those of you writing in England’s Regency era, Austen might represent the first or only stop you’ll make in vocabulary collection.

However, for most of us, no single author (or collection of authors) ever generated enough work to cover all of our needs. In addition, popular novels were written by the privileged classes, for the privileged classes. Today, we can take universal literacy for granted in much of the world, but in the past, the best someone from the lowest classes could hope for was to make their mark (write their name) and little else. If you want to create a more balanced approach to vocabulary development, you should expand the search to include poets, playwrights, and children’s novelists.

  • Poets push the boundaries of language, pulling from the archaic as well as the newest slang. They understand human nature, they can be bawdy and off color, or deeply spiritual and romantic. Poets were often interested in the lower classes, and looking for ways to make the people in power see the depravity and poverty that surrounded them. Often these deeper messages are lost on modern readers, so you will need to seek out annotated versions whenever possible. Depending on your era, you’re bound to find a few poets tucked away in the history. Poetry collections are often a good place to start. Zero in on a few poets, and let them give you the words to describe what society was feeling.
  • Many authors complain about not knowing how people talked in the past. For the most part, it’s a fair gripe. Studying letters can help, but plays help even more. Plays contain dialogue. We can’t take it for granted the dialogue is 100% accurate, but it can’t hurt to give it a shot. Lucky for us, Wikipedia to the rescue. Check out their List of Playwrights by Nationality and Birth dates, it’s quite impressive. Let’s say you’re writing a novel set in 1850’s Australian, no problem, try playwright Garnet Walch. Playwrights by nature love the spoken word, so look for puns, funny sayings, or for them to use words in non-traditional ways.
  • Last, I advise you don’t dismiss children’s fiction. Children’s literature is often ripe with what scares society. The 1800s started a boom in children’s books that never abated, and many of history’s leading writers have ventured into the field. Some achieved lasting success only with the children’s fiction. Most people know J. M. Barrie for his “play” Peter Pan. But he was also the foremost playwright of his generation and produced a huge body of important work. Or Frances Hodgson Burnett, best known for The Secret Garden, she also wrote well-respected adult works, as well as plays, and magazines articles. The vocabulary of children’s fiction can be light and playful; and it’s often affectionate and very charming.

Remember there are drawbacks to relying exclusively on novels. Balance your vocabulary acquisition by drawing from lots of different sources. And think about what you’re reading. Just because a book is old, doesn’t mean it’s an accurate source. Look for writers who wrote about their own time, and watch for those veiled metaphors. A simple phase could be a surreptitious stab at the government, or a stealthy dig at the social order.

The tips I gave you last week for building a historical vocabulary collection all apply here. You can access a large body of public domain fiction online, and then use your ereader’s highlight and note functions to make the task easier to manage.

Up Next from Robin … Walking the Tightrope: embodying yesteryear, while embracing today’s reader

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/retro-robin-you-are-mistaken-mr-darcy-using-literature-to-build-historical-vocabulary/

Historical Fiction: 3 Tips for Leaving the Slush Pile Behind

H

We hear it all the time:

There are no new stories!

Nowhere is this sentiment more potentially accurate than with historical fiction. But is it really true? Or is this a case of needing more out-of-the box thinking?

Here are three ways to re-imagine the research. Take one tip or use all three and leave Ho Hum in the dust.

1. If you must travel a well trod road, stay the hell out of the wagon ruts!

Historical novelists tend to cluster around a few key events and time periods. The largest of the popular zones are the cornerstone events of the 18th  through  20th  centuries. Why you ask? Well first, because there is more data available for world building and character studies. Second, because society started to change and during this time we see the origins of many “modern” social concepts. Third, historical eras grew shorter, were more clearly defined, and were exploding with fascinating developments in art, literature, and the sciences. In short, more writers can identify with these centuries. If possible, writers could explore setting their stories in lesser known time-frames.

However, I understand. You have your heart on one of these popular eras. I sympathize; I too suffer from this common aliment. So expand your research zone to include the transitional or shoulder eras for your target period. Also you could consider dumping the traditional genre for that beloved time zone. Offering up yet another Regency romance in a market flooded with them may never help you melt the slush. But maybe a Regency mystery, or a Regency horror novel might. Being in love with a popular era’s popular genre isn’t the kiss of death, but it does mean you need to work that much harder to offer up something fresh.

2. History is written by the conquerors.

For most of human history this was a pretty accurate statement. Historians practiced what’s called a top down approach to history, looking predominately at the power elite. Fortunately historians have moved beyond this stage, however historical fiction writers … not so much. Sure, throwing in some huge historical figures is fun for the writer. If it’s handled properly it can add complexity to the storyline. However, for every one writer that handles this juggling act well, many more are simply adding in famous figures for their characters to stumble over. And everyone seems to end up using the same historical characters. Too much of any notable person (no matter how important) starts to feel stale when they make a cameo in every other book. If you feel the urge to add famous people to your pages, think carefully and make sure they aid the plot.

Better still, consciously shift the focus of your story to a bottom up model. People love learning something new, so if you really want to catch a reader’s attention find history’s overlooked and forgotten people. Tell events from the perspective of someone ordinary, the people at the lower rungs of the social ladder. Give the narrative to someone totally unexpected, like an outsider, a servant, a child, or even a leper.

3. Pack up the show and take it on tour.

If I still haven’t convinced you to stay out of the historical fiction ruts, then follow those muddy groves to some place new. Stop focusing on the traditional seats of power, and focus your eyes on the horizon. Search for the far-flung outposts, the struggling colonies, or the abandon pockets of humanity. Explore wonderful new climates and harsh forbidding landscapes. Most civilizations were interested in extending their influence. They would trade, use the diplomacy of treaty, and arranged marriage. They would manipulate, spy, cause insurrection, and declare war. Even ancient empires poked their noses and weapons over their neighbor’s back fence. Find these forgotten cities, the lost battles sites, the obsolete trade routes, or the temples to forgotten deities. Give them back their teeming streets, their marketplaces and crime filled allies. Finding a lost treasure of a setting makes every novel better,  and if you uncover something truly remarkable, you’ll send everyone racing to Google, seeking some proof you didn’t make it all up.

Remember, dump the expected!  Take those sleepy well-known historical facts and re-purpose, refocus and relocate them. Who knows, you just might create the next hot new trend in historical fiction.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/historical-fiction-3-tips-for-leaving-the-slush-pile-behind/

Creating Names for Historical Fiction

What’s in a name? Shakespeare asked the question and we as fiction writers know the answer, the name is everything! Well maybe not everything, but critical, as names set the tone and define how readers view characters. Do we expect P. G. Wodehouse’s character Bertie Wooster to be an esteemed mathematician? Most assuredly, not.

As readers, we’ve all met characters that walked off the page. We’ve hid our secret crushes, daydreamed about meeting them for coffee, perhaps wondered what whispered confidences we would share, if only they were real. Their spirits lingers with us long after we close the book, and in rare instances, they almost become part of us. Some we pledged our loyalty to as cherished childhood friends, Gandalf, Dorothy, or Peter Pan. Others we added to our list later in life, Rhett Butler, Harry Potter or d’Artagnan.

 I think all writers and readers can agree – great characters deserve great names.

Fictional historical names come with their own set of considerations.
The reader must believe those names could represent people living in your chosen time. Using authentic names is best, but what happens when history recorded no names? Or, only the names of a few key figures? Sometimes creating names, or pulling names from other geographic areas, or near eras in history, is your only means.

Regardless of how you find your names—choose wisely:
Make sure your name invokes the right emotions in your reader and conveys the correct gender. Unfortunately, genders of names change over time, mostly moving from masculine to the feminine. Your goal is to find names readers will respond to in the appropriate way. Do people want to read about a fair maiden throwing herself into the waiting arms of a handsome Methodius, or a brave Aethelred? These were two popular names in their time, but hardly appealing for an alpha male character. Think about the rhythm of the name and what words you associate with that name. Methodius, with it similarities to modern words like methodical, or melodious, might be a better name for a trusted mentor, a musician or even a  pet.

Use family trees in heavily recorded eras:
Genealogists have constructed trees for many high-ranking members of every society and time and they are readily available. Nobles always favored reusing family names, and the lower classes followed their lead. If your character’s lower ranking family owes everything to the largess of the local Barron, of course they would want to name their children with a variant of the Barron’s first or last name. To adopt another house’s names is a way to curry favor, pledge loyalty, and/or to create the illusion of familial bonds.

Male names often dominate the historical records:
Even with gender against your characters, you can make a male name work for you. Simply use the same techniques people in the past have always used. Adapt male names by combining them with feminine parts. Think of a name like George, with it people produce Georgette, Georgiana, and or Georgina. Don’t be afraid to adapt last names, places, or even titles into names, remember when writing historical fiction for very early eras with few resources, sounding like a plausible name is your best goal.

Never forget the role of national or cultural identity in naming.
If you are writing about a country with a strong Catholic heritage, Saint’s names are going to dominate. Look for patron Saints that augment your storyline, there are Saints for almost every avocation. Look for the Saint with strong ties to your geographic location. They don’t need to be well known Saints, just from the right eras.

Check your name’s history:
Depending on how far back your target date is, you may want to select names that have fallen out of favor. If you have your heart set on an old name that is still in common use, you should at least favor the older or regional spelling of the name. This is one of those times going with a non-Anglicized version of a name could work in your favor. Readers want writers to sweep them into another time, and an unfamiliar name can help jump-start that feeling of entering another world.

Always look your names up in a few different places:
Find out any information about the original language of the name, any first use of the name in literature, the meaning of the name. You don’t want to give Germanic names to Spanish characters, at least not without a good reason. Nor should you use a name with a meaning that’s in opposition to the character’s nature you’ve created.

Take the time and do the legwork:
Great character names are worth the effort, and nothing sends a historical fiction purest into a frenzy faster then jarring modern names thrown into a beautifully constructed fictional landscape.

Let us hear you, what are your favorite names from history? Have you ever found the name first and written a character to go with it? Please share your stories of success and failure. 

They say history is written by the victors, but so are place names. Once you have a cache of great characters each crowned with the perfect name, you’re going to need a place (or maybe a palace) for your people to live in.

Up Next from Robin… Misty Moors and Bloody Battlements: Historical Setting.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/whats-in-a-name-2/

Walking the Tightrope: Embodying yesteryear, while embracing today’s reader

The_tightrope_walkerWhen you write historical fiction, you face great scrutiny. The tiniest mistake, or an over abundance of details, and you will generate comments. Angry heated comments. In a sense, you are always walking a tightrope between crafting authentic sounding prose and creating intelligible prose. One wrong foot and everything comes crashing down. If you want to create great period fiction, you must learn to balance the needs of the history junkie, while still tempting the shy newcomer to the genre.

In my last two posts, I showed you some tips for building your own historical word banks. Hopefully, dozens of new phrases dance around in your head, each one tempting you to begin a new chapter.

Now, I’ll share my top four tips for incorporating historical terms into your fiction.

1. One great historical word is worth at least three ordinary words, so don’t over do it.

You don’t want to come off sounding like a bad translation of English. Think about where you want to put your emphasis. Many historical writers favor a modern style in the exposition, but turn up the heat with dialogue. Others reverse the dynamic. Some writers scatter period appropriate language throughout the novel to create a full immersion effect. Regardless of your style, go easy on the vocabulary lessons. Make sure when you reach for an archaic word you’re doing it for impact, not just because you can.

2. Learn to respect the spirit of the time, while foregoing the exact phrasing of the time.

As I mention above, you don’t need to make every word period. No one expects you to write a novel completely in Old English, even if that novel’s set in Roman Era England. However, you could use only English words for your non-Roman characters and you will make a strong historical impact. That may sounds like a strange suggestion, but foreign words swell the English vocabulary. An estimated 26% of the modern English vocabulary was adopted from the French. Unless you’ve trained for a spelling bee, most people never think about word origins. A child has no more understanding that the word “Judo” is an import, than most adults understand that the word “garage” is. Knowing about a word’s origins is a powerful tool, and one the best writers understand and use to their advantage.

3. Use word origins to help you define your characters into social classes and round out their back-story.

Some may call it a stereotype, but there’s a reason why readers expect aristocrats to pepper their sentences with French or Italian. The ability to converse in a non-native tongue has always defined class and social ranking. The higher the class, the higher the probability of a vast non-native vocabulary. That’s a historical fact, so use it for your characters. Research your era. What languages held favor with the elites and which caused disdain? Slip in words from the non-desired language and cast unfair aspersions on your protagonist’s good name. Or use them to plant the seeds of your antagonist’s future treachery.

4. If you want to play the game you need to learn the rules. 

As a writer, you should already understand grammar, but do you know about the underlying science that governs all languages? If not, it’s time to make friends with linguistics. I’m not advocating a return to school, but an hour or two in a public library wouldn’t hurt. Let’s say you’re interested in writing about ancient people. Try to learn a bit about folk taxonomy. Also called vernacular taxonomy, this is the system by which people named and gave order to the natural world around them. Study your people; bring their names for flowers, animals and geological features into your story, and give your readers a strong sense of time and place.

Once you start to think about English as being dynamic and always changing, you can start to manipulate language to do your bidding. Play with new concepts, combine words modern readers already know in unexpected ways. Surprise and delight your reader with careful use of your great new vocabulary.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/historical/walking-the-tightrope/

You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy: How to use literature to build your fiction vocabulary

PridePrejudice423x630The ability to mass produce books gave birth to the popular novel, the Bronte Sisters, George Sand and perhaps one of the best-loved novelists of all time, Jane Austen. Since Austen’s first book was released over two centuries ago, people have studied her work. We love her books because they’re packed with social humor and memorable characters. They’ve been copied, adapted for media, and countless modern writers have expanded on her universe with new plot twists. For those of you writing in England’s Regency era, Austen might represent the first or only stop you’ll make in vocabulary collection.

However, for most of us, no single author (or collection of authors) ever generated enough work to cover all of our needs. In addition, popular novels were written by the privileged classes, for the privileged classes. Today, we can take universal literary for granted in much of the world, but in the past, the best someone from lowest classes could hope for was to make their mark (write their name) and little else. If you want to create a more balanced approach to vocabulary development, you should expand the search to include poets, playwrights, and children’s novelists.

Poets push the boundaries of language, pulling from the archaic as well as the newest slang. They understand human nature, they can be bawdy and off-color, or deeply spiritual and romantic. Poets were often interested in the lower classes, and looking for ways to make the people in power see the depravity and poverty that surrounded them. Often these deeper messages are lost on modern readers, so you will need to find annotated versions when possible. Depending on your era, you’re bound to find a few poets tucked away in the history. Poetry collections are often a good place to start. Zero in on a few poets, and let them give you the words to describe what society was feeling.

Many authors complain about not knowing how people talked in the past. For the most part, it’s a fair gripe. Studying letters can help, but plays help even more. Plays contain dialogue. We can’t take it for granted the dialogue is 100% accurate, but it can’t hurt to give it a shot. Lucky for us, Wikipedia to the rescue. Check out their List of Playwrights by Nationality and Birthdates, it’s quite impressive. Let’s say you’re writing a novel set in 1850’s Australian, no problem, try playwright Garnet Walch. Playwrights by nature love the spoken word, so look for puns, funny sayings, or for them to use words in non-traditional ways.

 Last, I recommend you don’t dismiss children’s fiction. Children’s literature is often ripe with what scares society. The 1800s started a boom in children’s books that never abated, and many of history’s leading writers have ventured into the field. Some achieved lasting success only with the children’s fiction. Most people know J. M. Barrie for his “play” Peter Pan. But he was also the foremost playwright of his generation and produced a huge body of important work. Or Frances Hodgson Burnett, best known for The Secret Garden, she also wrote well-respected adult works, as well as plays, and magazines articles. The vocabulary of children’s fiction can be light and playful; and it’s often affectionate and very charming.

Remember there are drawbacks to relying exclusively on novels. Balance your vocabulary acquisition by drawing from lots of different sources. And think about what you’re reading. Just because a book is old, doesn’t mean it’s an accurate source. Look for writers who wrote about their own time, and watch for those veiled metaphors. A simple phase could be a surreptitious stab at the government, or a stealthy dig at the social order.

The tips I gave you last time for vocabulary collection all apply here. You can access a large body of public domain fiction online, and then use your ereader’s highlight and note functions to make the workload easier.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/research/you-are-mistaken-mr-darcy-2/

What Doth it Profit Thee? Building Historical Vocabulary

If you’re like me, you spend the whole day talking. Sometimes, when the Fates smile, I’m talking with my keyboard, and what I have to say requires access to a time traveler, for I am a historical writer. All fiction has a unique set of challenges, but I find the creation of believable period language the most overlooked aspect of the historical novel. Since we don’t know what people sounded like for most of recorded history, we as writers need to extract information from written documents. The task becomes the equivalent of a linguistic treasure hunt, and I love it. However, for those still struggling, here are some of my tips for creating great historical prose.

Read! I know everyone tells new writers this, but it’s true. However, what you read matters. So stop reading other writer’s historical novels, and read nonfiction written during your research era, preferably in the original language. These are what historians call primary sources.

Look for letters, diaries, newspapers, birth records, political treatise, epitaphs, or even instructional materials. Period materials offer amazing information not only about language, but also about popular beliefs. You can find them on everything from the correct placement of medical leeches, to the menu of a Roman feast. Doesn’t everyone love a tasty stuffed dormouse drenched in garum? With an authentic vocabulary, you can write credible sounding prose for any time in history.

While you read, collect like a bling crazed magpie. I like to use my ereader’s highlight function to help me keep track of new terms; and the note function to record ideas on how to use them in my work. Once I finish reading, I transfer the information into my word bank, essentially a large spreadsheet. I record the source, author, year of the publication, and any other pertinent details. Remember to study the rhythm of the language. If you can capture the flavor of the era, you can sail through those instances when you must omit the correct historical term for clarity. However, avoid substituting modern slang at all cost, one wrong word and you’ve risked tossing all your clever world building, plot development and original characters right into the privy (loo, commode, head, water closet.) Get the picture?

My last tips will help you avoid some common mistakes.

  • Resist falling in love with one historical word. Constantly beating readers over the head with forsooth gets annoying.
  • Never assume you know the meaning of a word. Language is always changing; words can make a complete reversal in meaning over time. Terrific is a perfect example, it’s derived from the same root as the word terrifying. It does not mean wonderful during many eras.
  • Don’t overuse formality. Archaic language sounds stilted to modern readers, so save heavier moments for effect, and to convey a high level of primness, or decorum.
  • Lastly, don’t forget class and gender. Even with historical fantasy, you need to understand these roles, and use language to give class interactions authenticity. From Monarchy’s to urchins, they all must receive a vocabulary that fits their station.

I know it’s difficult to get historical language right, but vocabulary deserves the same attention to detail as the description of a Medieval castle, or a Renaissance ball gown. We, as writers, can elevate our novels to the next level through the creation of vibrant period voices, and I believe literary agents and readers will thank us for our efforts.

Up Next from Robin … You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy: How to use (and not to use) literature to build vocabulary.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/voice-writing-craft/what-doth-it-profit-thee-2/