What is elocution?
The skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation. So, in other words, speech (Elocution is more of a “historical” word for it . . . see what I did there?).
Using proper dialect for the time period of your novel will either draw the reader into that era or it will cause them to throw your book across the room. In other words, sticking to proper dialect can either be what makes your historical novel soar or will be the nail in its coffin.
Yikes! Really? Yes, really. I’ve been on both sides of this coin and it’s not fun.
Of course the latter was fun to write with all the slang. I mean, who doesn’t have fun reading or writing all the 1920s and 1930s slang words like gams, dough, trip for biscuits, togged to the bricks, and blow your wig.
To read about my favorites. Click HERE.
The Salem Witch Trial book was a whole other ball of wax. Puritans had a unique dialect that was difficult to say the least. One thing I’ve learned about readers with that novel is to follow your gut. When I was writing it, I tried to keep in as much old English as I could. I was told, however, that it was too much and it would annoy readers. So I took most of it out, peppering in only certain words or terms. That did not go well. Readers didn’t like the back and forth from old English to modern. Luckily, I was able to correct it completely. I hope that it helps readers have a more enjoyable experience.
Bottom line, even if someone tells you that a certain dialect my annoy readers, chances are it probably won’t. But what will annoy them is dialogue that isn’t in time with the period. Best advice I could give, stick to the time period. Even if you think it’s a bit much.
Are there do’s and don’ts to elocution?
Do’s of Elocution
DO dip into period dialect with slang words or period phrases to keep the readers enjoyment. This will take research!
Word of Caution about Slang ~ For words that are common, but have a different meaning or for words that you may think might be confusing, you might want to give a little one line after to help explain the meaning.
Example: In my novel, The Woman on the Painted Horse, a young many calls my character “a foolish cherry.” Now, in 1860, to call a woman a ‘cherry’ was utterly derogatory. However, I knew that my readers might now know this. So I added a couple of words after as a way to show that it was a bad thing.
DO check on the meanings of words as some definitions may have changed.
DO use profanity at your discretion, but also DON’T overuse it. Don’t be a “Deadwood”.
Wait, what’s a Deadwood?
Well, I’ll tell you. Who here remembers that HBO TV show Deadwood? Amazing show filled with great actors—especially, Ian McShane. While the reviews for the show were good and production for multiple seasons were promising, it was also no secret that there was a particular controversy surrounding it that is thought to have cost the show its renewal. For HBO that’s a shock, too. What was the controversy? The overuse of profanity.
Don’ts of Elocution
DON’T use cumbersome or words that are difficult to understand for the sake of appearances.
DON’T weigh down the novel with too much History, whether it’s events or dialect, or historical detail.
DON’T use modern words such as “okay” or phrases with modern slang.
Remember, the ultimate goal is to draw your reader into the book and transport them into another time or era. When done right, you’ll have an amazing book that people will flock to! Got a question about dialogue and elocution for your historical novel? Feel free to email me or comment below.
Be sure to check out the other parts of this series:
Elements to Historical Fiction and Historical Romance
Rules for Historical Fiction and Historical Romance