Friday, February 09, 2007

More on historical dialogue

My friend Tim, a fellow writer, dropped me an email with this fantastic take on writing historical dialogue:

Read your blog on historical dialogue - here's my two cents: have your characters say what is true - the truth inside them. Keep it simple. Keep it genuine. The dialogue does not have to emphasize the given historical period though it should not be anachronistic. Have them say only what they need to say to reveal themselves and advance the conflict of the story. In my opinion, too many historical writers are gilding the lily with period chatter trying to make it seem "real". So many of the words put into the character's mouths should be cut out. Some periods are more formal. The syntax might be different. But the reason why people talk has never changed. The goal is to give an impression of the time so you don't notice it. It's like salt - just a little bit for flavor.

Outstanding advice!

diacope: the separation of a word by the interpolation of another or others, as in absogoddamlutely; a deep cut or wound

Myths, symbols, and folklore
wheat: The sowing, growth, and harvesting of grain, specifically of wheat, have represented birth and death as well as death and rebirth. In ancient Greece, the head of grain, as the fruit of the maternal womb of the earth, symbolized the fruit of the human body; it was a symbol of Demeter and played a central role in the Eleusinian mysteries. In Egypt the growing of wheat was regarded as a symbol of Osiris rising from the dead. In the Middle Ages the grain of wheat signified Christ descending to and resurrected from the underworld." (Herder)


  1. Good advice. I would add a caution to be aware of slang and syntax -- contemporary usages have a way of creeping in.

  2. "But the reason why people talk has never changed."

    Good stuff. I needed to hear this today.