Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Word Challenge

Jenn here. I just finished the macro edits for my next novel, Highland Sanctuary. One of my hardest challenges for this novel, was limiting myself to words that were only in existence by then. It was like cutting the current dictionary in half. Now that I've been through the process of writing two 15th century novels, I can understand why few authors choose earlier time periods. It's a HUGE challenge!

I started out creating a list of words that I couldn't use. The list kept getting longer...and longer...until I had about 200 words. Then the list became so long it was like looking it up in the dictionary every time I came across the certain words. Very time consuming...not to mention how much it pulled me out of the story.

I had to wait until I finished all my major edits before I could go through and search and replace. Otherwise, I would have to search through the new sections I'd rewritten. And no, I couldn't rely on my feeble memory to know which ones I could use and couldn't. I confess to looking up some of the same words multiple times.

I love the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance, but I'm looking forward to moving to the colonial period for my next series set in 1760. Most of the words I wanted to use came into existence between 1550-1650, so I should be safe in 1760.

What has been your most difficult challenge lately? It doesn't have to be writing related. How did you overcome it?


  1. Hi Jennifer:

    I am curious about your word list. Did you restrict your words to only dialogue? It would seem you could use at least some modern words when you were speaking as the author.

    Also what do you do with words that have changed meaning? Do you use the old meaning? For example, awful (awe inspiring), nice (ignorant), artificial (art like; made with skill), brave (cowardice – showing bravado), manufacture (make by hand), prove (test – as in proving ground) and tell (count as in bank teller).

    Knowing you go to all this effort, I am going to have to read your next book real closely. : )


  2. Congrats on finishing! I can't imagine having to be so selective in language. Contemporary is so much easier. :)

  3. Totally enjoy your writing and I know how careful you are with research.

  4. Vince, I had different editors for Highland Sanctuary than Highland Blessings. They flagged words that were used in the narrative as well as in the dialogue. I used some very basic words in the first book that I didn't allow myself to use in the second book.

    I'm not sure why medieval fiction can't be treated as biblical fiction. The earliest words noted in my sources are 900. Therefore, it would be nearly impossible to write a book using accurate language for early medieval and biblical fiction. I tried to pass the first sentence off with the true spellings as my character read it in The Canterbury Tales, and all my beta readers freaked out saying they couldn't understand it. I thought it would be neat to give them just one sentence showing the original wording and how it was spelled in the original publication. I was wrong, so I kept the sentence and changed the spellings to be more modern for them.

    So there comes a point where you have to let authenticity go so modern day readers can handle what they are reading, understand it, and deal with modern reader expectation. I had to make this decision regarding Highland Blessings. Most brides in 15th century Scotland didn't wear "white" wedding gowns, but I dressed Akira in an off-white gown b/c most readers today would expect it. Same think with kilt. Bryce didn't wear a modern day kilt. It was a great kilt, which is different.

    I've had to make these same judgment calls with words. Most readers won't know that urge, alert, reluctant, concentrate, console, occur, fatigue were not in existence in 1477. It doesn't really distract or take away from the plot of the story or the 15th century feel for other words I use such as mayhap, bairn, lass, hither, naught, aught, nay, aye. For this reason I allowed myself to use some later words in the first book that were very basic, but followed my editor's strict code in the second book. Most likely, you won't really notice the difference between the two books unless you're looking for it.

    If a word wasn't known to exist until between 1480-1500, I still allowed it in Highland Sanctuary even though the book is set in 1477 b/c it is common knowledge that words were in verbal existence for about 20 years before they were actually recorded somewhere on paper.

    Now that I've finished this work, I won't be writing anymore books set earlier than 1600 anytime soon. I work another full-time job and it was a very hard, time-consuming chore to edit at this level of detail. It stressed and wore me out. I won't say never, b/c if I ever get a chance to write full-time, I might consider this time period again as I love it.

  5. Thanks for sharing that Jennifer. I put in Gaelic words for my Scots novel and got the same reaction :) So they've been replaced :) And I completely understand why :) Congratulations on finishing your book!

  6. Thanks, Eva Maria! It was a fun adventure, but now I'm looking forward to the Colonial period, when more words were in existence.