Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Period Chat

Getting the facts right for the period of your book is just a matter of doing a little research. But getting the dialogue OK is an altogether more iffy business.

The further back you go in time, of course, the problem is eased since it would be a bold linguist (if that’s the right word) who could criticise your choice of words. I’ve long been sceptical of dialogue from a few centuries back but it’s difficult to argue. Shakespeare claims that Caesar, having been punctured by his best mate, said “Et tu, Brute?” but I would have expected something a little more pointed, if you’ll excuse the choice of words, from someone who’d just had a dagger stuck in them.

Legend claims that, William of Orange, whose command of English was decidedly dodgy, shouted from his ship as he was landing at Brixham “Good peoples, I am come for your goods.” To which the reply was, allegedly delivered in broad Devonshire dialect, “You’m welcome.” I quote the incident in my book “Assaulting Britannia,” but I have reservations as to its authenticity. After all, who was there assiduously jotting it down? The man from The Sun, perhaps, after a scoop?

But you can get away with dialogue right up until fairly modern times as it cannot be easily questioned. If you’re a writer in the light-hearted vein, the in between the wars period can be handled in the Bertie Woosterish mode, or if in the United States, perhaps a Runyonese style will do. It’s the serious dialogue that presents an almost insoluble problem. How did idle conversation go in, say, the 1920’s. I must confess, I don’t know the answer.

“Who’s for tennis, anyone?” sounds like a good start.


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