Style and the Historical Genre

Though style is ultimately the conception of the author, the genre one is writing in can also have an effect on the presentation of sentences and structure. When writing historical fiction, style can be affected by numerous elements, such as tone, historical accuracy, and when to utilize proper jargon. Time and place dictates the writer’s society, and therefore their reactions to different situations. Being conscious of these word choices can help generate a writing style structured for the time and place of the novel.

Have a specific time and place in mind:

When writing any piece of historical fiction, it is important to keep in mind the context of the era. Europe in 1937 was very different from Europe in 1942. Though only a difference of five years, the context of the era and the events in history had a great impact on the society of the time. By narrowing down the exact time and place, the author is able to project the emotions of the era through their tone and word choices. Is this a Europe still fighting the effects of the Great Depression, or the invasion of enemy forces?

Know the society:

After deciding the exact time and place, the author also determines the expectations and reality of their character’s society. This has an effect on the writer’s style, since it dictates the roles of the characters. Women in 19th century England had expectations of marriage and finding a husband. However, being seen with a man in public, unchaperoned, was grounds for ruination. This would in turn effect the writer’s ability to convey specific situations. They would need to retain a more proper tone and use of language when a couple addresses one another, rather than the casual tone of the modern era. When writing in 19th century England, one must also be aware of titular distinctions, such as how to address and present the nobility.

Use of appropriate language and phrases:

When writing historical fiction, the writer must have a firm grasp on the language of the time, as well as which language is considered inappropriate. Avoiding modern slang keeps the audience grounded in their sense of time and place. Jargon and phrases from the time era are equally important in order to embed the audience in the time frame. Using phrases like “the ton”, which refers to London’s elite society, are generally well-known and accepted terms for people who frequently read Regency era novels. It is expected as a way to alert the reader of their time and place. However, using too much jargon can alienate the reader. In his article, “How to Write Historical Fiction,” Chuck Sambuchino writes: “Certainly I could say ‘The footpad bit the Roger, tipped the cole to Adam Tyler, and then took it to a stauling ken.’ But I have a feeling modern readers might now understand that I was saying that a thief has stolen a bag, passed it to a fence, who in turn sold it to a house that receives stolen goods.” Finding a balance between past and present word choices becomes key.

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