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It is sometimes difficult to master the syntax of an earlier century. And I feel safe saying earlier century, since we are only fifteen years into this one.

Because my books are set in the late 19th century, using dialogue, sentence structure, syntax, and descriptions suitable to a novel set in this time sometimes provides a challenge. It isn’t that I have trouble immersing myself in that world. Nor is it lack of knowledge of language use in the period.  Instead, it is the challenge of combining credibility with language that will resonate with many of today’s readers.

For example, sentences were longer – and so were many of the words! Some of the expressions used in that time, many of which had their origins long before Queen Victoria reigned - - are still in use today. Some are not. A favourite of mine appeared in a novel by Georgette Heyer, doyenne of the historical romance, and firm aficionado of the exclamation mark. The novel is Cotillion; the expression, “What a bacon-brained thing to take into your cockloft.” How much more descriptive than today’s phrase, “you’re crazy”.

Shakespeare, for instance, gave us the game’s afoot, foregone conclusion, fancy free, and set my teeth on edge.

One solution is to give your manuscript to a variety of beta readers, chosen carefully for the different and vital feedback each provides. They are an excellent brake on an overly-enthusiastic use of your favourite words and phrases.

But I’m still torn between verisimilitude and gaining readership.


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"With equal measures of humour and heart, Marilyn Temmer skilfully writes a world from a bygone era. Her characters spring from the page and make us long for a simpler time when dancing meant a waltz." Terry Fallis

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