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Monday, November 23, 2009

Say What?

Today I was talking to one of my beta readers, getting some pre-discussion feedback before the whole group meets on Saturday. She admitted that historical fiction on ancient Egypt isn't something she'd normally pick up, but then made my day telling me she loved it and that I needed to come up with a plan to market the book to non-history people because they'll love it.

Yay!

I told her that I love the warm glowy comments, but I need to know all the bad stuff- everything in the novel that doesn't work. Her first comment was that the names were hard in the beginning.

Don't I know it? Egyptians had a penchant for names that feel like a sack of marbles in your mouth. I've yet to find a way to make them less painful, shortening some and even looking up all their throne names. Would you rather have Thutmosis or Aakhpenenre?

Yeah.

Then she made a great comment- one I'm going to be on the lookout for. She said that some of the dialogue seemed too modern. That was something that Gary mentioned when I posted my first couple pages (which have now been edited within an inch of their life). She said she could tell when reading Hatshepsut's interaction with kids that I took some of that inspiration from real life interactions with my daughter.

Guilty as charged.

There's a fine line to walk here. Obviously Egyptians wouldn't have talked like us, but I've read some depictions of Hatshepsut that are so stiff and formal (sorry, Pauline Gedge!) that they're hard to read and make it difficult to connect with the characters. My beta reader commented that the modern-speak wasn't heavy throughout the novel, but it definitely poked through.

So I'm adding that to my list for this weekend's revisions. Do any of you have particular issues with dialogue?

10 comments:

Amalia T. said...

I feel pretty confident about my dialogue, most of the time. But I definitely understand how it can be problematic, and I struggled to find just the right tone for my kings and gods too, to separate them from the rest of the world. But too formal alienates them from the reader instead of just setting them apart. It's definitely a fine line to walk. I fought with some terminology too. Describing things like labor without the more scientific/medical jargon that's so normal to us is hard! And even just some turns of phrase bring a reader out of the past and into the present...

I absolutely feel for you!
And I'm totally impressed that you've left Hatshepsut alone for six weeks! After a comment like that you must be DYING to dive into revisions! (I would be, for sure...)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ummm... I might have the file open right now. Maybe.

It's officially been six weeks since I closed the file on Wednesday. And since it's a three day week today is kind of like Wednesday, right?

I can't wait any more!

Gary Corby said...

I'd forgotten I ever said that. The dividing line is hard to spot, and all too easy to cross.

Mary Renault, John Maddox Roberts, Steven Saylor, George MacDonald Fraser and Patrick O'Brian would be good examples of the quite different ways a master can handle historical voice.

Matthew Delman said...

I feel like it's easier to get historical speech patterns correct in the post-Christian era, simply because there's more records of the way people talked.

I understand your difficulty Stephanie, especially seeing as I try to give my fantasy characters speech patterns appropriate to the historical timeframe closest to theirs.

Ay yi yi, but it's hard.

Bane of Anubis said...

Historical dialogue can be a bit tricky -- and it depends on your target audience. No matter what, though, you're gonna have to modernize it to an extent. (just not things like 'wassup, Hattie?')

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I agree with Bane - there has to be a little modernization, but it really is a fine, fine line. I have no doubt, Stephanie, that your book is going to be spectacular - voice and all! ;-)

L. T. Host said...

I find using complete words and diction, and not abbreviating, often take out a "modern feel" to historical dialogue. Do not instead of don't, is not instead of isn't, I am instead of I'm, etc., etc. It can help to imagine English translations of other languages, too-- or at least it does me.

I noticed I put modern ways of speaking into my last MS, which was set in 3rd-century AD Europe, but it wasn't a dead-serious historical book so I felt ok doing that. Sometimes using more modern dialogue helps pull your reader in closer to the story. If you're too formal you risk pushing them away because it's hard to read.

I think a good balance is better to strive for than perfection one way or the other, especially if you want it to appeal to a broader audience.

Amalia T. said...

I would've had it opened within the first week, honestly. I'm terrible about waiting! The urge to tinker and revise is too strong!

Voidwalker said...

It's nice to get real feedback from people, but sometimes it can be scary too. I know I would rather hear that my story "just didn't make sense," than "Oh my goodness! That was SOOOOO good." Thanks, but I'll pass on the false hope, which ultimately destroys my confidence after receiving endless rejection letters on a manuscript that I could have touched up, IF, I had been told it stunk to begin with...

Ok, I'm ranting now lol

Stephanie Thornton said...

Bane- Dang! I just had to go edit out all the "Wassup, Hattie" lines. Gosh darn it!

L.T.- I actually went through and added in a lot of contractions in my last edit. I was reading out loud and the language seemed stilted to my modern ear. I might go back in and add some more- I did some editing on a scene last night that came out well. And 3rd century Europe? I want to read it!

Gary- Thanks for the suggestions on authors. I'll add them to the pile!

Voidwalker- Feedback can be scary. I usually end up justifying what I've done when critiqued and then realize that my reader was totally right. It's just how my brain works.

Shannon- Thanks! I hope it's spectacular!

Matt- Yeah, and it's not like I can go back to figure out how ancient Egyptians talked. I would if I could!