Note to Self: Speaking vs Communicating

A while back I picked up a Regency romance when the author briefly made it a freebie on Amazon.  As I've said previously, I had been attempting to classify My Father's Son and considered Regency Romance a probable genre.  (wrong wrong wrong)  I still haven't finished that book.   More still, I've read no fewer than 23 other books since I downloaded it.

The huge problem with this book (other than totally ignoring several social mores and the egregious consequences of flouting them) is the language.  The writer aims for Austen-esque language and way overshoots the mark.  And, I know it's not just me, because my #3 DIL kept reading passages to me out loud while she perused it on my Android.  (I really did want to know if it was just me being persnickety.)

It's the same problem I've seen in other Regency romances.  People try so hard to sound authentic in their phraseology and vocabulary, dropping topical names and slang and verbage, their words cease to communicate.  They become hurdles for the reader, and, no matter the dexterity of the literary athlete, sooner or later they're going to tire out. I read this book only when I had nothing but my phone in my hands. The plot is interesting, but I just can't take it in large doses before I start tearing out my hair.

I belong to a nifty little Facebook group called English Historical Fiction Authors and have met some fascinating people there who focus on all historical eras of the British Isles.  One of them is David W. Wilken, a Regency writer with a passel of books to his credit who maintains his own blog.  He also has painstakingly compiled an immense Regency lexicon consisting of thousands upon thousands of slang words used in the era.  The sum total of his and I believe others' efforts can be found here.

Regency Assembly Room Press is a fabulous resource for any stickler for authenticity researching a book.  It is a fount of information, including historical politics, societal issues, etc., etc., etc. And, of course, the lexicon.  The site touts its dictionary as useful to readers of the genre, which is true, of course, but I have to wonder at the wisdom of requiring the reader to require it.

During those painfully educational Google docs session with my brother and erstwhile editor while I was writing The Famous Mrs. Darcy, he had the annoying habit of inserting [stumble] all over the freaking dog-gone page, invariably where I tried to sound "authentic".  It just didn't work, especially because I thought I understood the flow of the vernacular, when I just didn't.

My brother has an IQ of about 150 (an estimate which will insult him, I'm sure).  He has an MBA and has been reading since he was three.  Like me, he's a literary omnivore.  He has plenty of 200-year-old classics under his belt.  He read Don Quixote in the original Castillian.  He's not your run-of-the-mill under-educated lackwit who doesn't know the difference between insuperable and insupportable.  Even so, my language got between me and the reader and the story got lost in the shuffle.

Here's what I've learned from him, and through arduous trial and error.
  • Make sure you understand the language.  Internalize the sentence structure.  Read and read and read until you become as fluent the vernacular of your era as you are in the language of your birth.  And, Regency English is its own language.
  • Know your audience.  Who will be reading your books?  Highly educated historians more steeped in the era than yourself or plain everyday people looking for a bit of romance and a bit of escape for a while?
  • Write to that audience.  Don't be such a vernacular purest that you cease to communicate.  Maybe it's just me, but I really hate having to stop and look words up in the dictionary while I'm reading a book, especially if I can't find it in the dictionary.  And, stopping to refer to the Internet?  Forget about it!
  • People don't like books that make them feel stupid.  Don't be so focused on proving how smart you are that you only attract readers who want to prove how smart they are by pointing out your deficits (err . . . like me).  
  • Know when to say when.  Even when you're certain you're right about some peculiar sentence structure, if it sticks up like a jagged rock in the road to trip up your readers, let it go.  If you don't, you'll be the one landing flat on your face. The world didn't end when I quite using "mine" instead of "my" before words that started with vowels; e.g. mine only love, mine Uncle Hubert, mine august Lord Hildebrant.  (I was about 100 years off the mark anyway, which goes back to Bullet 1 about knowing the language).  
  • Loosen up and have fun.  If you're writing, it's because you love it.  It sure as heck ain't for the money.
Do I practice what I preach?  You decide. 

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