On Medieval Speech Patterns and How Much is Too Much

Medieval language

I’ve been reading an interesting book lately on the fourteenth century and learning a huge amount – the kind of details you cannot find on the ‘net. So, since I am in the middle of my historical romance, I thought to apply some of what I’ve learned. Well, good, you might be thinking, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. Except.

Now I have my characters saying things like:

“Sire, God give you good day.” Or

“Dame, good day give you our Lord.”

Not just this, but I learned that when meeting a superior, they would kneel on one knee, including the ladies. So I had my fmc kneeling to my mmc, which is totally not right for her character in this story, especially since they have known each other for years. The more I wrote like this (trying to be realistic) the more I lost my characters. I lost my mmc, Egon, and he’s a vital character. Once I realised what was happening, I stopped writing, succoured myself with chocolate (for those who read my Lent blog post, ahem, forget I mentioned the word ‘chocolate’) and ranted at myself for a bit.

I’ve been trying to increase my attention to details, real historical ones that bring the prose alive (that’s the intention, anyway), and forgetting one extremely important detail. Too much salt obliterates the flavour. Over-salting the prose overwhelms the reader. I’m not talking about general historical details to do with weather or clothes; I’m talking about realistic speech patterns, manners and behaviour that might come across as alien to the casual reader. Either I need to reduce these details, or I need to completely re-write my ms.

Having been thinking about this for a few days, and trying to write another chapter, I’ve decided to include those details which currently feel natural for the characters, then when I edit, to add in a few more here and there. Build it up, so to speak, until I feel the speech has attained a natural balance. The problem with this is that it’s all so subjective and you can’t please everybody. I’ve decided I’ll please myself, since if I’m happy, the writing flows much easier. I think that is key. If I force the dialogue it will be unnatural. I need to familiarise myself with all of these tidbits that I’ve learned and incorporate them as and when I can do it in a way that feels totally natural.

Am I alone in getting bogged down with these details to the detriment of character and plot?

The good thing is – I find the more I write, the more I research, the more I learn, the better my first drafts are. Just, why does this whole process take so looooong:D Now I’m very glad I haven’t published my first historical. I would cringe deeply at the errors. It will be edited. Sometime…


2 thoughts on “On Medieval Speech Patterns and How Much is Too Much

  1. Pingback: The Best of 2016 Happy Authors Guild’s 263 Posts by D. L. Hungerford | Happy Authors Guild

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