dialogue - Page 4

Use Modern Dialogue for Historical Fiction?


Dear Editor…

In writing an historical fiction novel about an immigrant boy in 1911, how would you handle dialogue—should it be true to the time or more modern for today’s readers?


Dear Roz…

You’re writing dialogue, not a dictionary. Most people prefer accessibility to precise adherence to “the way people really spoke back then.” Alice Hoffman’s popular, highly acclaimed The Dovekeepers is set in Ancient Israel, 70 C.E. No one’s putting up a stink because her dialogue uses modern contractions: “It’s good you don’t want it.” Use time-specific phrases, yes, but even better: inject accessible dialogue with authentic flavor by recreating the way people of 1911 strung their words together—the syntax. Read as many first-hand writings of the time as possible. Train your brain to mimic the cadence and flavor of the syntax and work that rhythm into accessible character confabs.

Happy writing!
The Editor