in 19th Century London…what a mess.
My wife is reading a very thick, fiction novel set in 19th century London, and she occasionally draws my attention to passages from the book. Yes, she interrupts whatever I’m reading to do this, and since I love both historical fiction and my wife, I’m usually game to take a look.
I’m always amazed by the richness of detail in these novels, which can at times almost appear obsessive. From the era appropriate napkin folds at table settings, to intimate descriptions of every article of clothing that adorns a character…and not just the main character, but everyone in the scene. This is one of the main draws to period or historical fiction. The details of another time. It’s an amazing feat, which must involve painstaking research, travel and imagination. As a part time writer, I’m thankful for Google and an active, roaming imagination.
The other night, she pointed out another feature of this tome she’s lugged around for a few weeks. The dialogue. I couldn’t believe it, but the author had taken pains to mimic the speech of the 19th century London too. I can barely understand some of the thicker British accents even today! I must admit that I couldn’t stand it. I was forced to work too hard to understand the dialogue, and I can only imagine that my wife feels like she’s learned a second language at this point…though I don’t hear her complaining.
I take dialogue seriously, and if I can’t follow it, or it’s unrealistic, I’m likely to tune out of the book. In fiction all dialogue is contrived, so I use a simple strategy to test it. I read and re-read lines of dialogue out loud (I don’t do this for every line…I seem to know when the test is necessary). It’s amazing how crappy a genius line can sound when you put a voice, and some inflection to it. I’ve eliminated some stinkers this way…and probably missed a few. I still find them.
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