As we all know, historical authors agonize over the details.
We spend countless hours researching details for each book even though it sometimes feels like we’re the only ones who will care. For instance, questions that pop up on loops and forums have ranged from what’s the most common breed of sheep in 15th century Scotland to who was the most expensive tailor in Regency London. Both of which are small details that could be easily written around.
In trying to make my books as authentic as possible, I’ve learned how to make beer, medieval-style, counted the steps between a dozen cathedrals and castles, and peered inside too many garderobes to count get a sense of how they worked and figure out if someone could actually crawl up one to storm a castle.
But what other authors and I often agonize over—and what no amount of research will ever really give us—is the language our characters actually used.
During the 12th century, the time period I write, The Scottish/English borders were home to people descended from Saxon, Viking, Celts, and Normans (Vikings Round 2). Local dialects and accents were common (the traces of which can still be heard today) and few people outside the nobility traveled far from their place of birth. So it’s possible that someone from Carlisle had trouble understanding someone from Tyneside.
Fast-forward 800 years and we’re mostly reduced to gestures.
For instance, William of Ravenglas, the 12th century hero of ENTHRALLED didn’t inhale; he sucked in air. A century later he might have inbreathed. Just for the record, he could exhale in the 16th century, but wouldn’t inhale for nearly two hundred more years.
And as with any good hero, William definitely cysses Amilia, the heroine, but several hundred years will pass before he actually kisses her. And though he’s English, he won’t be snogging anyone until the 1950s. Of course, he could wreche havoc, upbrixle someone who was rude to a lady and still get off Skot-free if he became brath when the apology was slow to come.
I could go on, but you get the gist (my hero wouldn’t).
So as I sifted through revisions on Enthralled, which comes out today, I ended up having William inhale his breath and kiss his lady. When having to choose between the right word and the recognizable word, I picked the familiar one (as long as it wasn't jarringly modern). I want my readers to enjoy the story, not reach for the dictionary.
How about you? As a writer of historical novels, how do you solve the dilemma of readability vs. accuracy?
Keena Kincaid writes 12th century romances with paranormal elements. If transported back in time, according to the OED and the OED Historical Thesaurus, she would be little in the 12th century, but Henry VIII’s courtiers would have called her untall.