marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

speaking timeless and other problems

How to convey that these are not the fields we know. . . it helps to use an attempt at timeless English, in both narration and dialog.  Nothing Chaucer would recognize, of course.  But something Jane Austen could read with clarity.  Ideally something Shakespeare could read without issues.

Reading English literature back from the present day can give enough of a feel for it.  I found that reading backwards through history meant that I didn't have to look up any of the words when I hit Shakespeare; I had picked up enough that the few left I could pick up the usual way.  And I had to look up only a few when I read Malory ("orgulous" means "proud, haughty.")

However, then you need to keep applying the modernometer to judge the words.  You don't fire arrows unless you have firearms that actually are fired.  No one uses "Hello" as a greeting until the telephone, unless shouting from mountain to mountain (though it is an exclamation of surprise -- I wonder if you can get away with, "Hello, hello, hello, what have we here?")  And to avoid the stamp of "speaking forthsoothly" one wishes to avoid any archaic expressions unless the only alternatives have the stamp of modernity.

To be sure, sometimes there are issues.  One character exclaims in a scene, "I'm an idiot," and the writer pauses, pondering.  Idiot.  Is that modern?  Fool is old, and might work, but do I have to forgo "idiot"?  When did it come into use anyway?
Tags: dialog, setting (whole story), style

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