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Monday, February 1, 2010

Bobble Heads in Ancient Egypt


On my last edit I combed through HATSHEPSUT looking for modern expressions. I pay attention to this when I write (there was one scene where I really wanted to describe a servant nodding like a Dwight Schrute bobble head), but oftentimes those suckers slip right past me.

With the help of an intrepid beta, I think I've caught every last one of the slippery guys. Here's a list of the ones that got axed:

1. Down to the last second. Yeah, the Egyptians didn't measure time in seconds.
2. His head bouncing like a spring. This was a replacement for the bobble head. Did you know springs weren't invented until the 1800's? Now you know.
3. The day was one for the history books. No books in ancient Egyptians. Stick to scrolls.
4. Total ignoramus. Sounds almost Latin, right? Wrong. Ignoramus was a word popularized in 1616 from the play "Ignoramus, or the Academical Lawyer" by George Ruggle. The word does have earlier origins, but not back to 1480 B.C.
5. Leap the hurdle. Not only is it cliche, but the Egyptians weren't running track and field.
6. Stacked the deck. Also not playing cards. Although they did have board games.
7. Squished a clove of garlic with her fork. They might have been civilized, but there are no forks in the archaeological record. Forks show up in the 11th century when the daughter of Byzantine emperor Constantine Ducas used a little golden one.
8. Encyclopedic knowledge. This one hurt to cut because is was such an apt description, but the Egyptians weren't using Encyclopedia Brittanica to write research reports.
9. Kowtowing to foreign ambassadors. My wonderful beta caught this one. I suppose the ancient Egyptians weren't hanging out with the Japanese. Too bad for them!

Is there anything weird you have to watch out for in your genre? Or anything that was especially painful to cut?

31 comments:

Gary Corby said...

I know your pain. Oh, how I know your pain. I've just been caught out today on shift (the clothing) and mugged.

Look out too for Shakespearean and Biblical phrases.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great catches. i'm not sure I would have caught them all. I'm saving a revision round for exactly this problem. My Steampunk is the first time I've ever written from a historical perspective. Thank goodness for online sources & crit buddies :)

K. Marie Criddle said...

Gah! Hence the pain of writing historically AND accurately! I seriously could not do it, not to any true measure, so I really admire those of you who can.
Because sometimes, early civilizations or not, you can get REALLY attached to that fork, you know?

Gary Corby said...

Marie, I can tell you from experience that it's not the forks you miss. It's the minutes and seconds. Without them you have to come up with creative ways to space action sequences.

Faith said...

These are great! I've never stopped to really think about modern expressions in historical fiction before, but heck yes this is an important editing stage. As painful as I'm sure it is, isn't it also a bit fun to see how silly these 'modern' phrases sound when you find them in a historical context where they don't belong? Thanks for sharing!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

It never occurred to me that this could be a problem, but of course it makes total sense. You must have some pretty great betas, Stephanie! :-)

Valerie Geary said...

What a delightful post! And a good reminder to me when I edit... however mine might be a bit easier since I'm in America after the 1800s. More room to move. :D I definitely think people knew about seconds then! And forks!! Thank god!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Gary- I had a feeling you could empathize. It's definitely the minutes and seconds that trip me up the most. I think I've only got one Shakespearean-sounding phrase, but I morphed it a bit. BTW- I had a really strange dream last night in which Janet signed me as a client. Without reading my MS. :)

Jemi- I don't know how historical fiction writers wrote without the internet. It's so handy to look at something (like the fork) and think, "Hmmm... I better check that."

K. Marie- I seem to recall thinking, "Maybe the Egyptians DID have forks," as I was forced to edit it out. I wish I had the power to change history!

Shannon- My betas have been the best!

Valerie- You lucky dog! This MS is actually a little easier for this stuff. For my next one I have to go 1,000 years back. Things were pretty basic back then.

Julie Dao said...

Haha these are great! I always have the same problem when I'm writing historical fiction too. Thank goodness for Google.

L. T. Host said...

Stephanie-- OMG I had that same dream! I was all terrified of her and she made me go with her to lunch and we were getting along just fine, haha.

Bane of Anubis said...

I'm immersed in springs right now, but I never knew when they were invented. Thanks!

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Parts of my WiP's are set in space and an underground world, I worry about those little bloopers. Makes it challenging!

Dominique said...

I know your pain. I'm basing my world on Europe in 1820s, so I have to be very careful the kinds of words I use as well. (The time I found out that kid had been used for skillful young thieves in 1803, I did a happy dance. Made my life so much easier.)

I use a site (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php) to find out how old the words I've been using are to make sure they fit in.

Amalia T. said...

Man, I didn't even THINK about minutes and seconds! Now I'm going to have to double check two-thirds of my manuscript all over again!

I'm surprised springs weren't invented until so late... As far as History Books go-- I wonder if a substitution of "records" would work? I think I asked already, but did Egyptians really refer to history as history? Or did that concept come later?

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I face a similar dilemma in my current WiP; people were far more formal in 1930s England, so balancing my dialogue between historical reality and modern 'readability' can be tricky.

Day to day reality was different, but people are people at any time in history.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Time and space measurements stumped me when writing a fantasy set in medieval times. It takes some creativity to replace things we take for granted.

Voidwalker said...

Wow, those are some great catches... and I love how you filled in the historical error tied to them. Very well done. I've not seen anything like that yet, mostly because my primary WIP takes place in the present time period, so historically speaking I should be ok. In my prequel, the time period is the dark ages, so I'll have to be very careful and lookout for things like this.

Sam said...

I followed you over from your comment on Gary Corby's blog regarding page breaks in Microsoft Word. You can use ^m as the Search text and leave the Replace field blank to strip the document of manual page breaks.

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, so much stuff to think about and research. Maybe this is why I don't write historical? Maybe. I did have to take out the song Happy Birthday once because of the time period. That was hard.

Michelle Gregory said...

even a fantasy based on a middle ages type time period is hard. i can't say, "it was driving me crazy," or "she felt a zing of electricity at his touch."

Stephanie L. McGee said...

I totally have to deal with this in my current WiP. It's fantasy and well, there's a lot of stuff that just doesn't exist. I am striving hard to keep modernisms out.

BTW, thanks to your blog, I totally just wrote like two paragraphs of stuff on Hatshepsut on my art history exam. One of our identifications was her temple at Deir el-Bahri and we had to talk about why the person whose temple this was, was so important/unusual. Totally just spurted out all the information that I've gained here from your posts and what we talked about in class about her. So, thanks for helping me get a couple extra points on my test.

Guinevere said...

Writing historical fiction is tough! I've only done it for short stories, but I imagine keeping it up through an entire novel would be quite challenging.

storyqueen said...

Maybe the Egyptians had forks that bio-degraded over time...like twigs or something...then we'd never really know if they had them or not....

(Hate checking the facts myself...thank God for Betas!)

Shelley

Stephanie Thornton said...

Julie- I don't know what I'd do without Google. It's a lifesaver!

L.T.- Crazy dream, eh? She was wonderfully nice in my dream too. And blond. Very blond.

Bane- Now you know!

Deb- I can imagine!

Dominique- Isn't it great when you find some research to validate something you've already written? A huge sigh of relief!

Amalia- Those sneaky little suckers hide all over the place. I want to go back in time and invent the clock just for Egyptians so I don't have to edit them out.

Elspeth- There's a fine line between accuracy and readability. I did a specific edit just for dialogue.

Tricia- Measurements are a pain! I tend to reference body parts- high as two men, a handsbreadth, etc.

Voidwalker- You'd be surprised where the little devils hide. It takes me a few edits to find them all. And some betas too!

Sam- Thanks for the tip!

Elana- I have naming days instead of birthdays in my novel. But no songs. Or cake. *sigh*

Michelle- I had to sidestep the electricity issue myself.

Stephanie- Yay! That just made my day!

Guinevere- It is challenging, but I learn a lot too!

Storyqueen- Very good point- you never know what they had. I took liberties with some clothing- we have very little in the way of fabrics from ancient Egypt. I believe the earliest are from Tut's tomb and that's after Hatshepsut. I added some embroidery, but I don't think that's too far a stretch.

Gary Corby said...

Janet's not blonde. She has bright red hair done up in a beehive. With real bees.

Natalie said...

Wow, and that is why I could never write historical fiction! I'm very impressed though.

Susan R. Mills said...

Just another reason I'm glad I write contemporary. I'd have those bad boys all over the place. Good thing you have some great beta readers to help you catch them.

Michele Emrath said...

I'm with Marie-This is why I don't do historical ficiton! But good for you! May I be a bit stupid and ask, "What is a Beta?" I figure if it's capitalized, it must be important. And I must be missing something...

Otherwise, great catches! And thank you for sharing them. It's a rare insight into an author's work. Are nearly ready to do the complete MS dance yet?

Michele

Dawn Simon said...

So much to think about! Since I'm writing modern YA, I try to put in enough detail to make it feel like it's today but not so much that it will get dated quickly.

Jemi Fraser said...

Hi again, Stephanie! I've got an award for you over at my blog :)

Stephanie L. McGee said...

Glad to help brighten your day!