Question Day: (1) Research (2) Ideas

From Patricia Rice:

Q:  How hard is it not to accidentally put in something that they wouldn’t have had or known then? Do you find yourself frantically scouring reference books (or googling), muttering, "Just when was the telegraph available in the wilds of Hampshire?"
Quillpen
A:  Oh, yeah, I’d be hunting for telegraphs, no doubt!  Been there, done that, never remember the answer.  It’s the tricky questions that tend to slip by—when did they quit writing with a quill?  what kind of paper are they writing on in 1820?  How very easy it is for those of us who have written the Regency era to assume cuffed boots might still be worn in the Georgian era.  It’s just so much a part of what we write.  Most clothing I know to look up because fashions change so rapidly, but something like a quill…  By 1820, they had a pen, although who used it might require research, and how soon it became part of the culture is another.

Culture and language are always much trickier than inventions.  We just assume all English royal weddings looked like Princess Di’s.  <G>  Or the word "contact" was always used to mean to write or call someone.  We have to actually KNOW that this wasn’t so before we can research them. 

Q:  Do you ever feel like screaming "GO AWAY!" at the 3,546th fan who asks about your "process" or "where do you get your ideas"? Or even one who thinks you should know things like whether women in the 1800s shaved their legs?

A:  On the contrary, writers spend utterly ENORMOUS amounts of time discussing process.  We’re having that discussion on one of my lists right now.  We’re fascinated with the way our brains work and what secret compartment might hide those elusive ideas.  We can’t answer these questions, Chain_1of course.  <G>  But we just adore making up opinions.  The latest theory is that we keep our muses chained to the basement walls and beat them every so often…  No, I think we’re supposed to feed t hem regularly and treat them to chocolate.  Something like that.

I really don’t get too many people asking me difficult questions about shaving legs. I think people sense that I may be clueless.  <G>

21 thoughts on “Question Day: (1) Research (2) Ideas”

  1. It is the negatives that always get one: not the inclusion of objects, customs, activities and words that one knows to be correct for the period/culture, but the exclusion of those things that are NOT appropriate.
    Even with contemporary dialogue, it is easy enough for a Brit to put in Americanisms, or an American writer to put in Britishisms (though both often get generation/class wrong: there are hardly any Brits, even retired soldiers, who say ‘old boy’ any more), but it is much more difficult to exclude expressions that seem normal and universal, but which are not actually used by the speakers of another major dialect of English.

    Reply
  2. It is the negatives that always get one: not the inclusion of objects, customs, activities and words that one knows to be correct for the period/culture, but the exclusion of those things that are NOT appropriate.
    Even with contemporary dialogue, it is easy enough for a Brit to put in Americanisms, or an American writer to put in Britishisms (though both often get generation/class wrong: there are hardly any Brits, even retired soldiers, who say ‘old boy’ any more), but it is much more difficult to exclude expressions that seem normal and universal, but which are not actually used by the speakers of another major dialect of English.

    Reply
  3. It is the negatives that always get one: not the inclusion of objects, customs, activities and words that one knows to be correct for the period/culture, but the exclusion of those things that are NOT appropriate.
    Even with contemporary dialogue, it is easy enough for a Brit to put in Americanisms, or an American writer to put in Britishisms (though both often get generation/class wrong: there are hardly any Brits, even retired soldiers, who say ‘old boy’ any more), but it is much more difficult to exclude expressions that seem normal and universal, but which are not actually used by the speakers of another major dialect of English.

    Reply
  4. So many good points.
    I’m saving my answer to the PMS question until my day on Wednesday, because though I don’t have PMS I might as well due to all the things I’m having to do right now.
    But yes, we love to talk process as long as no one’s expecting “ten steps to success” or the Secret.
    And yes, it’s the little details that slip by us as anachronisms. I’ve more or less stopped fretting about the obscure aspects of language because it becomes impossibly stifling. Today I learned that beeline is apparently an Americanism from post-Regency. True or not, I’m ignoring that.
    But I try very hard for concepts and images that feel in period, because those are parts of the characters’ minds, and I think that matters.
    Jo

    Reply
  5. So many good points.
    I’m saving my answer to the PMS question until my day on Wednesday, because though I don’t have PMS I might as well due to all the things I’m having to do right now.
    But yes, we love to talk process as long as no one’s expecting “ten steps to success” or the Secret.
    And yes, it’s the little details that slip by us as anachronisms. I’ve more or less stopped fretting about the obscure aspects of language because it becomes impossibly stifling. Today I learned that beeline is apparently an Americanism from post-Regency. True or not, I’m ignoring that.
    But I try very hard for concepts and images that feel in period, because those are parts of the characters’ minds, and I think that matters.
    Jo

    Reply
  6. So many good points.
    I’m saving my answer to the PMS question until my day on Wednesday, because though I don’t have PMS I might as well due to all the things I’m having to do right now.
    But yes, we love to talk process as long as no one’s expecting “ten steps to success” or the Secret.
    And yes, it’s the little details that slip by us as anachronisms. I’ve more or less stopped fretting about the obscure aspects of language because it becomes impossibly stifling. Today I learned that beeline is apparently an Americanism from post-Regency. True or not, I’m ignoring that.
    But I try very hard for concepts and images that feel in period, because those are parts of the characters’ minds, and I think that matters.
    Jo

    Reply
  7. Thank you for the great answers, Patricia! And for the thoughts in comments. I so much admire those of you who write historicals, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to keep all that straight. I remind myself of that, when I see something that gives me a bad case of hives.
    (The worst for me – not often misused in British-set historicals! – is the phrase “hellbent for leather”, which is apparently the ill-begotten child of “hellbent” and “hell for leather”. Riding “hell for leather” makes perfect sense – you’re pushing the horse so hard the leather tack is straining. But what would “hellbent for leather” mean? I first think, “What was she thinking??” Then I think, “I would hate to have me for a reader.” I suppose she could be a Judas Priest fan…)

    Reply
  8. Thank you for the great answers, Patricia! And for the thoughts in comments. I so much admire those of you who write historicals, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to keep all that straight. I remind myself of that, when I see something that gives me a bad case of hives.
    (The worst for me – not often misused in British-set historicals! – is the phrase “hellbent for leather”, which is apparently the ill-begotten child of “hellbent” and “hell for leather”. Riding “hell for leather” makes perfect sense – you’re pushing the horse so hard the leather tack is straining. But what would “hellbent for leather” mean? I first think, “What was she thinking??” Then I think, “I would hate to have me for a reader.” I suppose she could be a Judas Priest fan…)

    Reply
  9. Thank you for the great answers, Patricia! And for the thoughts in comments. I so much admire those of you who write historicals, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to keep all that straight. I remind myself of that, when I see something that gives me a bad case of hives.
    (The worst for me – not often misused in British-set historicals! – is the phrase “hellbent for leather”, which is apparently the ill-begotten child of “hellbent” and “hell for leather”. Riding “hell for leather” makes perfect sense – you’re pushing the horse so hard the leather tack is straining. But what would “hellbent for leather” mean? I first think, “What was she thinking??” Then I think, “I would hate to have me for a reader.” I suppose she could be a Judas Priest fan…)

    Reply
  10. Jo, one of the best aids for this I know of is any historical dictionary–especially the blessed OED and Eric Partridge’s DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH. Very good for giving the first date a word or meaning appeared in print (which of course is not definitive, but certainly helps!).
    Incidentally, a lot of Partridge’s usage citations for Regency slang come from Heyer, and for Oxford University slang from GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers.

    Reply
  11. Jo, one of the best aids for this I know of is any historical dictionary–especially the blessed OED and Eric Partridge’s DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH. Very good for giving the first date a word or meaning appeared in print (which of course is not definitive, but certainly helps!).
    Incidentally, a lot of Partridge’s usage citations for Regency slang come from Heyer, and for Oxford University slang from GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers.

    Reply
  12. Jo, one of the best aids for this I know of is any historical dictionary–especially the blessed OED and Eric Partridge’s DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH. Very good for giving the first date a word or meaning appeared in print (which of course is not definitive, but certainly helps!).
    Incidentally, a lot of Partridge’s usage citations for Regency slang come from Heyer, and for Oxford University slang from GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers.

    Reply
  13. Patridge’s DICTIONARY OF SLANG & UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH would not be my first recommendation for anyone writing Regency era novels. As the preface notes, it was intended to supplement his DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG and his DICTIONARY OF CATCH PHRASES. The DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG, along with Captain Grose’s DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE are far more useful. Though the OED is usually the first place I’d go to check, it does leave out some words, including the F word, and some slang. I also refer to Fowler and Partridge when trying to avoid Americanisms–but as Jo pointed out, trying to remain strictly in the time period is impossibly stifling. I certainly would not want to write the way the majority of Regency era authors did. Furthermore, you can’t look up every single word, and unless you already know it’s wrong, how do you know it’s wrong? I have said this many times: I never would have guessed that the British don’t use “gotten” if Jo hadn’t let me know. I’ve picked up a few other subtleties along the way, but it’s impossible, to catch everything.

    Reply
  14. Patridge’s DICTIONARY OF SLANG & UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH would not be my first recommendation for anyone writing Regency era novels. As the preface notes, it was intended to supplement his DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG and his DICTIONARY OF CATCH PHRASES. The DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG, along with Captain Grose’s DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE are far more useful. Though the OED is usually the first place I’d go to check, it does leave out some words, including the F word, and some slang. I also refer to Fowler and Partridge when trying to avoid Americanisms–but as Jo pointed out, trying to remain strictly in the time period is impossibly stifling. I certainly would not want to write the way the majority of Regency era authors did. Furthermore, you can’t look up every single word, and unless you already know it’s wrong, how do you know it’s wrong? I have said this many times: I never would have guessed that the British don’t use “gotten” if Jo hadn’t let me know. I’ve picked up a few other subtleties along the way, but it’s impossible, to catch everything.

    Reply
  15. Patridge’s DICTIONARY OF SLANG & UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH would not be my first recommendation for anyone writing Regency era novels. As the preface notes, it was intended to supplement his DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG and his DICTIONARY OF CATCH PHRASES. The DICTIONARY OF HISTORICAL SLANG, along with Captain Grose’s DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE are far more useful. Though the OED is usually the first place I’d go to check, it does leave out some words, including the F word, and some slang. I also refer to Fowler and Partridge when trying to avoid Americanisms–but as Jo pointed out, trying to remain strictly in the time period is impossibly stifling. I certainly would not want to write the way the majority of Regency era authors did. Furthermore, you can’t look up every single word, and unless you already know it’s wrong, how do you know it’s wrong? I have said this many times: I never would have guessed that the British don’t use “gotten” if Jo hadn’t let me know. I’ve picked up a few other subtleties along the way, but it’s impossible, to catch everything.

    Reply
  16. Loretta, is that your way of saying “Nyah nyah nyah! I’m a rich and famous author and I can afford more reference books than you can!”?
    I do have a copy of Grose now–a gift from AgTigress.

    Reply
  17. Loretta, is that your way of saying “Nyah nyah nyah! I’m a rich and famous author and I can afford more reference books than you can!”?
    I do have a copy of Grose now–a gift from AgTigress.

    Reply
  18. Loretta, is that your way of saying “Nyah nyah nyah! I’m a rich and famous author and I can afford more reference books than you can!”?
    I do have a copy of Grose now–a gift from AgTigress.

    Reply

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