Tuesday, June 2, 2015

41 Tips for Transporting Your Readers Back in Time

By multi-published historical author Keli Gwyn!

I’m excited to be back in Seekerville. Ruthy invited me in response to a comment I left on her thought-provoking post, “Writing Contemporary vs.Historical Books: Must We Choose?”  Since I think Ruthy is the bee’s knees, I said yes.

Ruthy suggested I blog about giving a historical story a dated feel, a timely topic I was eager to explore.

In an April 16 post on the Bethany House blog, Ask Bethany House: WhatDo Editors Look For in a New Author?  BH editor Raela Schoenherr listed 13 items she looks for. I was excited to see this bullet point as the first in her “laundry list.”

• Interesting, varied word choice and use of the English language in a way that is appropriate to era, setting, characters, etc.

As an author of historical romance, a command of period-appropriate language is important to me as well as my readers. It’s nice to see that it ranks so highly on an editor’s desired elements list as well.

But how does a writer go about creating that period-appropriate language? I have a few tips to share, but I wanted to give you more than I could come up with on my own.

Because my stories encompass only a narrow slice of history, I got brave and sent out a zillion emails to some of the best and brightest stars in inspirational historical romance, asking them to provide tips for their periods as well. The generous authors flooded my inbox with a wealth of information, resulting in a post so meaty that I’m issuing each of you a virtual steak knife and fork. Enjoy the feast!

Basic Tips for Creating Period-Appropriate Language

Here are eight techniques used by many writers of historical fiction.

• Read other novels set during the time period you’re writing about. Find the best-written ones you can and absorb the language from them. ~ Lori Benton

• Purchase the audio version of a book either written during that time or written in the language of that time and listen to it 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, while you are writing. It's also a good way to break writer's block! ~ MaryLu Tyndall

• Watch movies set during your time period, those whose creators have taken pains to make accurate. You’ll get a good sense of dialogue. ~ Lori Benton

• Be ruthless when it comes to anachronistic language. Cull any words or phrases that were not in use at the time of your setting. This makes the period language stand out better, and it makes your reader trust you. ~ Erica Vetsch

• I check the age of words in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to ensure they were in usage during the timeframe of my story. I also check expressions in The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. If a word was in usage but has a modern ring, I don’t use it, as it may take readers out of the story. ~ Janet Dean

• Although the dictionary might show that a word wasn’t in use during your period, bear in mind that words are often used in speech a decade or two before they appear in the dictionary. To find out if a word was used in my time period, I perform a search using Google’s Advanced Book Search feature. By inputting the word or phrase and a date range, I can quickly find out if the word appeared in print during the time my story takes place. ~ Keli Gwyn (That’s me!)

• Be fearless when it comes to using an unusual word that you know is historically accurate, but be sure to use it in a context that makes it plain to the reader the meaning of the word. Readers of historical romance love to both learn something new while they are reading and affirm their knowledge when they come across an unusual word that they know. ~ Erica Vetsch

• Be careful not to over do it. When giving your characters a voice to authenticate an historical time period, it's best to season your dialogue lightly so the reader won't be stumbling through the text, especially when working with early centuries and unusual languages. ~ Carla Gade

Creating Period-Specific Language

The following tips are broken down by period. I suggest reading them all because there can be overlap in language between periods. Some of the suggestions could be modified for a different era as well.

• I keep a running list of time-period lingo. For the middle ages that includes words like ’tis, methinks, behoove, etc. From my list, I usually assign my main characters one or two medieval words as dialogue “tags,” which then give a flavor of the time period without overwhelming the reader.

• I keep in mind the ranks of those speaking. For noblemen, knights, and ladies, their language would have been more respectful, refined, and courteous, whereas a peasant would have sounded less educated and plain.

Jody Hedlund, author of An Uncertain Choice, released March 2015

• • • • •

Since I write medievals, and since people in medieval times spoke the equivalent of the way The Canterbury Tales were written—in middle English—and since most modern readers, including me, can’t even decipher middle English and certainly don’t want to read an entire novel in it, I have a few little tricks for making my books “sound medieval.”

• First, I don’t use a lot of contractions.

• Second, I try not to use modern words or expressions, things that will “sound modern” to my readers.

• Third, I throw in medieval terms where appropriate, terms that can be figured out through context.

Melanie Dickerson, author of The Huntress ofThornbeck Forest, released May 2015.


• To enhance the Colonial flavor of my stories, I like to sprinkle expressions and words that were used during that time period. Since they are often unfamiliar, sometimes extinct, or the meaning has changed over time, it's important to weave the definition into the context of the passage. Be sure to let your reader know that a fortnight lasts two weeks and allow your heroine to speak of her gown, not her dress, as dress was not used as a noun until a later era.

• Even during the same time period there can be cultural contrast. In a couple of my books, I distinguish a colonial New England resident from the British newcomer through their distinct voices and word usage. Early America was also a time of immigration, which gives further opportunity to establish unique voices.

Carla Olson Gade, author of “Carving a Future” in The American Dream Romance Collection, coming October 2015

• • • • •

• Immerse yourself in books either written during the period in which your novel takes place or about the period. For example, my last novel, The Ransom, was set in Jamaica in 1692, so I gathered as many colonial books set in the Caribbean that contained pirates as I could and spent at least an hour or two a day reading them.

• While reading or listening to period books, make a list of distinct phrases used during that time and frequent it often while you are writing. They used some pretty weird words in colonial days that we no longer use. Egad, Ergo, Bad cess, Anon, Forsooth to list a few. This can also be done for certain dialects and accents such as pirate talk or British cockney.

MaryLu Tyndall, author of The Reckoning, Book 5 in the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series, coming July 2015

Frontier/Revolutionary/Early Federalist

• For my frontier novels, I use the rich, colorful speech common to the Appalachian region of the 18th-century, much of which has lasted to the present time. I sprinkle in ‘tis’ and ‘twas’ and such to give a flavor of the time period without smothering or overwhelming the story.

•  I love using figures of speech that aren’t cliché or hillbilly but truer to the region. For my 19th-century novels I had to make the leap from folksy to genteel speech, which is more formal and stilted.

Laura Frantz, author of The Mistress of TallAcre, coming September 2015

• • • • •

• For taking readers back in time by the use of language, I like to read primary sources like letters, journals, essays, diaries, sermons and novels written during the time period in which my novels are set (Colonial, Revolutionary, early Federal periods). There’s no better way to absorb the mindset and language and modes of expression.

Lori Benton, author of The Wood’s Edge, released April 2015


• Word choice makes a big difference. Ideally, the language will have a period feel without sounding stilted or overly formal.

Before: The girls’ unpopularity stemmed from their thrift store clothes and their uncle’s crazy behavior.

After: The cause of the girls’ disgrace was a reputation-shattering combination of unfashionable gowns and their uncle’s eccentric behavior.

Rhythm is important too. Watching your favorite version of Pride and Prejudice can remind you of the cadence of Regency-speak.

Before: “Let’s just say that now I’m twice as nervous. There’s no way the earl will overlook my lack of experience.”

After: “Suffice it to say that if I was nervous before, I’m doubly so now. The earl is not likely to overlook my lack of experience.”

Anne Barton, author of One Wild Winter’s Eve, coming October 2015

Western Americana/Mid-Victorian

• I select words, slang and idioms to give a sense of stepping back in time. For example: Squire for Justice of the Peace. No-account for worthless. Set store by for esteem. Hightail it for rush off.

• I give quirky secondary characters poor grammar since many people didn’t get more than a grammar school education. For example: Ain’t for isn’t. Seed for saw. I heerd tell for I heard. Though it can be done, I rarely use poor grammar for the hero and heroine.

• I use forms of address such as ma’am or miss when a man is addressing a woman. Children refer to their parents as Ma, Pa, Mama, Papa, mother and daddy, not mom and dad.

Janet Dean, author of The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption, coming January 2016

• • • • •

• One way I create a historic feel for my stories set in the 1860s and 1870s is to use more dated words for common items. Garbage can becomes dustbin. Mirror becomes looking glass. Vest becomes waistcoat. Often these are British terms, which were more common in the Victorian Era before the Americanization of the English language.

• As much as possible, I incorporate the customs of the day. As an example, my characters eat dinner as their midday meal. Supper is in the evening. I had a grandfatherly reader thank me for this, saying his family used those terms when he was a boy.

Keli Gwyn (Yup. Me again J )

Gilded Age/Late-Victorian

• Use old-fashioned words - Quite, Indeed, Honestly, Goodness and others along those lines. Watch out for modern phrases and check the origins of names. I once wanted to use the term paddy wagon, but found it wasn't even around until the turn of the century.

• Sprinkle in authentic facts - Knickerbockers, The New York Four-Hundred, different models of carriages true to the decades you're writing. I enjoy adding real department stores as well as having my ladies shop on The Ladies' Mile. 

• A great way to get a feel for a specific era is to read memoirs penned during that time.  One of my favorites set in the Gilded Age is "King Lehr" and The Gilded Age, penned by Elizabeth Drexel Lehr. It gives a marvelous taste of New York high society through the eyes of one of the great society ladies, although, factually, it leaves a bit to be desired, but the formal manner in which it's written is a great tool to use to authenticate a novel with a Gilded Age setting.  

Jen Turano, author of In Good Company, coming June 2015

World War I

• My WWI-era novels are a mix of upper-class and working-class characters, so I had to make sure their dialogue was appropriate not only for that time in history but also for their social status, education level, and region of the country (Arkansas). Online etymology dictionaries and sources for early-20th-century slang became invaluable. Googling those terms will bring up several helpful results. One interesting fact I learned was that the first known use of the word “teenager” was after 1921, and since my novels ended in 1921, I had to rethink how I referred to my teenage characters.

Myra Johnson, author of Every Tear a Memory, released October 2014
• • • • •

• The closer we move to the modern day, the lingo becomes less distinguishable, but there are still very clear distinctives in word choices and phrasing.

Before: It's from someone Grandmother knows, Mrs. Ragan. My room is next to hers and she's supposed to chaperon me as more of a favor to Grandmother than anything else. I can't imagine we'll talk much, since she's more interested in high class company.

After: “It’s from Grandmama’s distant acquaintance, Mrs. Ragan. My room adjoins hers and she’s providing escort for me, but I believe it’s more a formality than anything else. I don’t suspect we’ll engage in much conversation since she cares little for the society in which she is traveling.”

Word choice and phrasing matter: the way the phrasing happens gives a sense of another time :-) (or at least I think so) "…engage in much conversation" - yeah, we don't talk like that nowadays.

• Here's another example:

“A penny for your thoughts?”
She slowed her pace to a stop and looked up, Sam’s Fedora low over his eyes. He looked like he belonged in one of those new moving pictures.
“Oh, I have an entire purse full of thoughts, but most of them revolve around a single coin.” She hoped for a grin, but knew she failed.

The simple change of pocket to purse set the stage a little differently. Now it helps that I add some more period lingo in there, like Fedora and, but the turn of that single word gives it a different flare.

Pepper Basham, author of The Thorn Bearer, released May 2015

World War II

Classic Films: The most realistic way I’ve found of obtaining practical knowledge on the dress, common language and war-time culture of the 1940s is to watch classic films. It’s a visual mode of being drawn into story with the sights, sounds, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of the time. While you can’t do this with every historical time period, it’s a luxury in abundant supply for WWII era writers. (And as a big TCM fan, I’m happy to take advantage. Who wouldn’t want to spend hours watching Cary Grant?)

Real-life Heroes: First-hand accounts are powerful voices of the past. If you’re able, interview someone from this era who would understand your character. Was she a nurse? A woman on the home front? Perhaps a survivor of the Holocaust or a soldier fighting on the front lines? Read letters and books containing first-hand accounts to understand the flavor of the language. Watch interviews (or conduct them yourself if you’re able), as these stories are authentic. You’ll find emotion packed into these individuals’ experiences that will translate to the pages you write, and help endear your character to readers’ hearts.

Kristy Cambron, author of A Sparrow in Terezin, released April 2015

• • • • •

• Think globally. WWII thrust people together from all over the world. GIs picked up phrases in French, Italian, and Tagalog, and children in Morocco, Britain, and New Guinea spouted American slang. Use bits of local color in your dialogue to bring your characters and your setting to life.

• Sprinkle in slang and/or military lingo. Use well-chosen words and phrases for color and authenticity, and define your terms in context for easy readability. Your readers will have a "swell" time.

Sarah Sundin, author of Through Waters Deep, coming July 2015

Vietnam War

• Research and use dialogue to reference the time period, but not so much that the reader gets overwhelmed by it. For my 60's time frame in Yesterday’s Tomorrow, I used sayings that most people would know - "swell, groovy, holy cow …" but again, sparingly. You want the reader to get a good sense of the era, but don't overdo it otherwise they'll get bored and start rolling their eyes.

• Describing clothes and items can also be a great way to drop the reader into the right time period, as long as you don't suddenly have your hero making a call on his cellphone in 1967 … :-)

Catherine West, author of Bridge of Faith, released April 2015
Final Thoughts

While establishing period-appropriate language is important, we don’t want to become so stressed about that element of our stories that we cease to have fun writing them. Here are some wise words on the subject…

Don’t sweat the language in your first draft when you’re trying to get that story out. Do pay attention to your word choice when you edit and polish, weeding out modern-sounding phrases and words. ~ Lori Benton

I liked what one author had to say in response to my request.

I so wish I could help you, but I have no tips. I have no idea what to do besides check every single idiomatic expression even if it seems like an oldie or even if it seems like there's no other way to say it but that way--and then I generally have to ax them and put in something else non-idiomatic. Other than that, I'm clueless. I just write...

Author Melissa Jagears, author of A Bride at Last, coming July 2015

Melissa’s last three words carry an important message. There comes a point in a historical writer’s career when s/he no longer has to stop and think about creating period-appropriate language. The writer’s voice has developed to a point that such language is part of it, and the words flow effortlessly. OK, maybe not quite effortlessly, but they do come more easily.

My hope is that if you’re one of those learning to create language for a period-set story, you will reach the point where you can say, as Melissa did, “I just write.”

If you have questions about using period-appropriate language in your historicals, please share them in the comments. I will answer those I can. Several of the authors quoted in the post will be stopping by to answer questions as well.

Ruthy here! I am so pleased to host Keli today, she is one of the sweetest, most amazing women I know and she thinks I'm nice, so right there I  knew I had her fooled! Keli has graciously offered to give away two copies of her beautiful Love Inspired novel PLUS BONUS FEATURE I LOVE SO MUCH!!! Keli's sending the second winner a personally designed "Seeker" notepad!

And she did her own graphics....

And she wrote a great post.

And she totally rocks hats and period clothing, the brat!

(Ruthy sighs and frowns and causes more wrinkles... then sighs again!)

Come on in, leave a comment or a question for Keli or any of her delightful advisors today and we'll put your name in a very old-fashioned saucer (wouldn't be a cat dish back then, you know!) for the drawings!

Keli's book:

And the delightful notepad!!!!


Keli Gwyn said...

Ruthy is nice. Really, really nice. How do I know? I sent her a novella, er, blog post that included zillions of links, photos and graphic elements, and she didn't even whine or complain. Not even when some of my images didn't work the first time, and she had to ask me to send 'em again or when the post took her the better part of a week to format due to me getting just a wee bit carried away. And she's still speaking to me. At least I think she is. I kinda disappeared after the forty-second email I sent her over the past couple of weeks.

I do want to make one teensy weensy disclaimer. I didn't design the darling Seeker notebook. I found it at a gift shop in town. It is designed by someone named Kelly, though: Kelly Rae Roberts. When I saw it, I knew I had to get it to share with a Seekervillager. It was too perfect not to.

Tina Radcliffe said...


I write contemporary and yet I was loving this post. Then we got to Vietnam Era (I still love you, Cathy West) and I realized I lived it. I am history. I joined the Army before the Vietnam War was officially over by an act of Congress. I AM HISTORY.

Must go digest that while humming some Moody Blues Dark Side of the Moon.

Melissa Jagears said...

Ha! I feel like such a hack being quoted after all that good advice!

But I do often read literature from that time, diaries specifically, which are helpful, but I LOVE MARYLU's idea to read about an hour of it a day. I so should do that, maybe that would cut down on my editing out non-historical sounding stuff!

And doing research itself lends a helpful hand with the authentic details.

Melissa Jagears said...

TADA! Mary you were right from yesterday, I can ignore the "Prove I'm not a robot" food questionnaire and publish anyway.

Keli Gwyn said...

Tina, I hear you on being history. I remember my 8th grade civics teacher telling us about the Vietnam War and my high school U.S. History teacher inviting a former P.O.W. to visit our class. I still remember some of that soldier's gruesome stories. What a time that was.

I don't think I've ever said this to you before, so it's long overdue. Thank you for your service!

Keli Gwyn said...

Melissa, you are most assuredly not a "hack." Far from it. You're a talented author who tells entertaining stories and who is so good at it that it comes naturally to you. Thus, the reason I used you as a good example of how to write historicals well.

Walt Mussell said...

I like the coomment about reading memoirs specific to a time. I own a couple of books that are translated first-hand accounts of what Europeans thought was odd in Japan when they started visiting there in the latter half of the 16th century. It's absolutely fascinating.

Keli Gwyn said...

What a great resource, Walt. What types of things impressed the Europeans when they visited Japan?

Jenny Blake said...

Firstly I love the cover of your new book. In Australia we still use fortnight and didn't realise it was from colonial era. Also in Australia I grew up with dinner being at noon or evening. The history of it is your main meal in the day is dinner so if you have it a noon its dinner if not lunch if you have it in the evening its Dinner if not we call it tea. Supper is the snack you have before bed.

Loved reading the different era's and tips.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jenny, I didn't realize the term fortnight was still in use in Australia. That's cool. Wish I could spend a fortnight or two visiting your wonderful country.

Jenny Blake said...

Its still used in England also and I think Canada. Here most people get paid fortnightly. I think you may need more time than that over here but it would be a start.

Mary Preston said...

Too much flavor can take me out of the story as quickly as inaccurate can.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Isn't this the most fascinating post, ever? At first I thought it was me because I've just done my first historical novellas, and I'm having SO MUCH FUN.... they're addicting!

But it's not me, Keli packed so much reflective detail into this posts between the advice and the pics that I understood every point she was trying to make and agreed with them! For an argumentative Yankee, that's something! :)


And note that Keli did not diss any tomes of yesteryear, so she's the calm following Mary's storm, LOL!

Mmmm.... coffee..... Four A.M........

Cindy W. said...

What a wonderful post Kelly. You were right it is meaty and has tons of information that can be chewed upon time and time again. Definitely one for the Keeper book.

When I read a historical, the period language has always allowed me to climb deeper into the story and I appreciate that so much more than someone just telling men about the time period.

The giveaways sound awesome! I would love to have my name tossed in for a chance to win.

Have a blessed day everyone!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Melissa Jagears, you are my favorite hack. hahahahaha.

So many good tidbits that make me think..oh, thank you, God for making me a contemporary writer.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I agree with Walt, reading memoirs is a fun and peeping Tom past time. Many libraries keep local historical journals and such in the non check out areas.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow, Keli!!! What an amazing, comprehensive post. Awesome advice here. I was relieved to hear that about the dictionary and words appearing before it's published...Wonderful examples. Thanks for the post and congrats on your book coming out! I'm SO excited to read it!!!

Jackie said...

Hi Keli,

What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing with us.

I hope you all have a great day!

Bettie said...

Thank you so much for this wealth of information. Please put my name in the drawing. Now I'm off to 'just write.'

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Melissa, you can be a hack here anytime, darling.

And may I add how much I love Austen??? When Blake Shelton sings it, I COME UNDONE!!!

"By the way, this is Austin.... And I still looooooove you."




Mary Hicks said...

Keli, you did a great job! Thanks for an entertaining read with my first cup of coffee. :-) You posted about my favorite genre—to read—not write!

I'd not thought much about it, but when a writer in that time setting makes even one little comment or reference to something that sounds modern, it does throw me out of the story. From there on in it's not as 'real' to me, more like pretend and it takes away from my enjoyment.

I admire you brave girls who write this wonderful genre. And you were right, Keli, you asked some of the best—at least some of my favorite authors for their tips on the subject.:-)

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Keli! What a treasure trove of tips you've provided. Wonderful ideas for creating an authentic historical background!

Walt Mussell said...


I would use the word "curious" as opposed to "impress." The Japanese of the time period bathed regularly, which the Europeans found repulsive. The Japanese ate rice as a staple the same way Europeans ate bread. Europeans remove their hats as a courtesy. Japanese people remove their shoes. And, as polite as the Japanese are, there was nothing in the Japanese culture that required a "bless you" or an "excuse me" when it came to body noises. (The priest that noted that was referring to belching.)

The most interesting thing however is an admission by a 16th century head missionary that Japan may be technologically inferior, but it was culturally superior. From that point on, missionaries went through intense sensitivity and language training before being allowed to preach the Gospel. The new missionaries drew a line at bathing more than once a week.

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, KELI ... talk about "workshop in a blog," as Tina likes to say ... this is definitely one, and a true keeper!

Language is SO important when setting a historical because nothing will pull you out of historical setting faster than a modern word or turn of phrase. In fact, I cannot tell you HOW many times (at least five!!) I have come across some form of the expression "he or she couldn't wrap their brain around it" in historicals. Each and every time, it makes me stop and think, no, no, no, no!! Fortunately for me, I have a copy editor at Revell who is a real stickler for this with both words and phrases, so I am very lucky.

My main source of double-checking my words is the Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/), which is reallly good and almost always has the date of the first usage. But I am VERY grateful to you, my friend, for mention of the fact that "Although the dictionary might show that a word wasn’t in use during your period, bear in mind that words are often used in speech a decade or two before they appear in the dictionary. To find out if a word was used in my time period, I perform a search using Google’s Advanced Book Search feature."

That is definitely a tip I will use, so THANK YOU!!



Cindy Regnier said...

Oh Keli - this was wonderful! I think Ruthy is so smart (don't tell her I said that) for inviting you to Seekerville with this topic. It is one of my pet peeves to read historical novels that I feel are inaccurate for setting and speech. And can I just say the dinner/supper thing can make a difference in whether I even finish reading a book. A character from the past calling the mid day meal "lunch" is my pet of all peeves. I read and write historical, knew some of this but learned a lot too. Thanks a bunch!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Walt, I agree with Keli. That's a marvelous resource. You've got such an eye for worldly stories. That's a gift.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary Preston, that's a good point. I know some call that purple prose, a phrase that I find kind of lame when we could simply tell aspiring authors (and some established ones!) that it's too much of a good thing!

It's a fine line on both sides of the fence, writer and reader. How much description of reticules and bonnets is too much? (maybe THAT'S THE ATTRACTION TO AMISH!!! PLAIN BONNETS!!!) :)

Dialect can go the same way, to create a balance of words for effect.

Thanks for noting that.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I am not nice. Well, not mostly. Stop spreading rumors, Gwyn. No one will believe you, anyway, and Connealy will let them all know that the NY SNARK routine isn't an act!!! It's inborn!


Walt Mussell said...

Thank you, Ruthy. (Now if I could only get that traditional contract. :-) )

Pepper said...

Oh Keli,
This is so GREAT! I'm going to keep it for future reference because of all the gold nuggets of info!! And I'm with Melissa on the 'hacking' business. Definitely don't feel like my advice should be alongside Jen Turano, Kristy Cambron,Laura Frantz, and the like. Whoa!

Though Laura is right about the Appalachian dialect. There are loads of words and phrases from 100 years ago still used today. We don't like change 'round hyere ;-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Walt, we adopt the Winston Churchill mentality: Never give up! I believe that, heart and soul.

Pepper, isn't it amazingly good? The brat???? But I disagree, your advice and words are invaluable. They might be that wonderful lesson that touches a heart or opens a mind! Just as valuable as anyone's, sweet thing!

And there I go, ruining my snark reputation again! Dagnabbit!

Deanna Stevens said...

How interesting today! I have read some of the books mentioned & some of the others are in my TBR stack.. Great authors certainly do their homework & research!
Please toss me into the hat for your book... I'd enjoy reading it too!

Mary Connealy said...

Great blog, Keli.

I really had a dilemma with one character I created.

He was born in Canada, lived as a fur trapper in the Rockies for years, moved south and ended up owning a ranch in New Mexico when it was IN Mexico, because a Mexican citizen and was surrounded by mainly Spanish speaking people. Then the borders shifted and he changed back to being an American citizen.

How would he talk?

And this was based on a real guy who had all these factors in his life!

It was a dilemma, let me tell you.

Mary Connealy said...

Keli, I agree that it's hard to tell when Ruthy stops speaking to you, because she keeps talking no matter what. So you have to vibe out exactly where she is aiming her words.

It can be a puzzle.

Mary Connealy said...

Ruthy IS nice. It's just not that apparent to anyone in the whole world.

But inside, she's super nice. (I'm guessing)

Mary Connealy said...

Agree that this is a very down to earth blog full of stuff we really need to know.

As I read each piece of your advice I kept thinking, THAT one's great. No wait, THAT one is great.

I love finding things actually WRITTEN in the era I'm writing in because that's the true voice of the era. Modern movies SET in those times can help but it's nothing like something really written in the right time and place. and even then you have to be aware of who's talking. And educated person. Boston or Texas or Georgia. It all matters.

Kav said...

What a gem of a post! I'm like Mary, each point I read was the best until I read the next one and then it was the best too....so I guess that means the whole post is the bestest ever! LOL

No need to enter me in the draw -- I've ordered your book and it should be here any day now. So excited to read it.

Laura Frantz said...

Such a rich post, Keli. I learned quite a few new tips from reading. Wonderfully done! So excited to have another beautiful book from you:) The cover is wonderful and I love the story premise. Happy Tuesday!

Myra Johnson said...

Wow! What a compendium of advice for historical writers! Thanks for pulling this all together for us, Keli! I'll definitely be making notes about the various resources mentioned!

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY R, I've been dealing with the dinner/supper dilemma in my recent novels. Because of what these terms mean to modern-day readers, an editor suggested I reword slightly to indicate the "dinner" meal was actually occurring mid-day.

The way the meaning of some words has evolved, it's definitely a challenge to be historically accurate and yet avoid confusion for today's readers.

Cindy Regnier said...

MYRA - very good notation to make here. Just because terminology may be historically accurate doesn't mean today's readers will 'get it' and so modifications may be in order. I read Every Tear a Memory not long ago. May I just say you did a beautiful job being accurate for the time period as well as writing a story so captivating I probably wouldn't have noticed any inaccuracies anyway. Loved it! Thanks so much.

Glynna Kaye said...

The supper/dinner dilemma also gets tricky depending on WHERE your story takes place -- what part of the country! Where I grew up in the Midwest, lunch was noontime, supper evening and often dinner referred to the Sunday noontime meal.

Jeanne T said...

Keli, what great ideas you've given! I don't write historical, but I love reading what authors do to make sure their stories are authentic. What a in-depth post you've offered! Well done. :)

Myra Johnson said...

Thank you so much, CINDY! You made my day!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...




Ruth Logan Herne said...

Aw, Cindy.... True words.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Did you know that if you put two "less thans" before a statement and two greater thans, your comment DISAPPEARS but a greater than and less than remain.

I believe this is called "Common Core".

Pam Hillman said...

Thanks for the Advanced Book Search link, Keli. I don't think I've used that one before. Here's another site that I've used to check when phrases came into usage: https://books.google.com/ngrams/

Can I win a copy of Keli's book and that adorable Seeker notepad??????? :)

Pam "Anonymous" Hillman

Erica Vetsch said...

Yay! Keli, I'm so happy for you upon the release of your latest title.

Love this post. I can't get enough of historical information, and these tips are wonderful!

Pam Hillman said...

Jenny, for many years I thought Tea was just a very small afternoon break, like a mid-morning coffee break, just in the afternoon. I suppose it COULD be that, but from what I've read here and there, it can be a full meal.

So, if I want to be globally inclusive, I can break my fast, then...coffee break, brunch, lunch/dinner, snack, tea, dinner/supper, midnight snack, and/or one of Louis XIV's media­noche feasts. By then, it's time for breakfast again.


Keli Gwyn said...

Jenny, I'm thinking a fortnight of fortnights to enjoy your beautiful country would be more like it. =)

I love the idea of being paid by the fortnight. That way a person would be two "extra" paychecks a year. Two per month for expenses and two freebies per year to par-tay!

Barbara Scott said...

Keli, your post couldn't have come at a better time for me. I've combed through my manuscript for modern expressions and think I've found them all, and then one will sneak up on me. It was easy for me to call the noon meal dinner and the evening meal supper because those are the words my mama and daddy used (color me southern).Of course, Dad always called the bathroom the toilet, and I can't tell you how many times that embarrassed me in front of my friends. LOL

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, I'm with you. Moderation in all things is advisable. Too much dated language can make dialogue sound stilted and stories become laborious reads. But just enough is delightful.

Myra Johnson said...

compendium |kəmˈpendēəm|
noun (pl. compendiums or compendia |-dēə| )

* a collection of concise but detailed information about a particular subject, especially in a book or other publication.

* a collection of things, especially one systematically gathered: the program is a compendium of outtakes from our archives.

ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Latin,‘profit, saving’ (literally ‘what is weighed together’), from compendere, from com- ‘together’ + pendere ‘weigh.’

Myra Johnson said...

So what was between the << >>, Ruthy???

Kathryn Barker said...

Hi Keli,

Fantastic blog full of wonderful take-aways! You're like a great baker...taking all these ingredients (quotes/advice) and creating something deliciously edible (useable)! Thanks so much!! Truly, it's a keeper!

I haven't tackled historical, but My Sweet Husband has a couple of journals and letters written by his pioneer relatives... yummy food for wild and crazy stories! My dear grandmother wrote an autobiography...now her great-great grandchildren love listening to and asking questions about those historical times. Sometimes it requires explanations of phrases or words she used. (Maybe it has to do with her "Southern speak" though, and not the period of time? As Mary mentioned...geography and education matter in a character's speech...that's true of modern stories too!)

You are sweet Keli...loved getting to meet you at your book signing in Redding, CA....and loved your perfectly adorable period dress and hat! We share a mutual love and appreciation of your hometown...My Sweet Husband and I spent our teenage years there...and we'll be visiting this fall for my 50th...yikes...did I just actually type that? 50th...talk about living history...high school class reunion!!

Would love to be entered in the drawing...

Thanks to Ruthy for inviting Keli!!

Hope everyone has a tea-riffic day!! ( I think I must need tea and a scone...I see where everything I've talked about has to do with yummy, delicious and food...ok...time for breakfast and writing...)

Keli Gwyn said...

Ruthy, I didn't diss any historic works--today. Yesterday I, um, kinda sorta agreed with Mary yesterday about some of the classics being, well, less than scintillating. But that was then. Today is a clean slate, right? =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Cindy W, I'm with you. Period language enables us to show rather than tell a reader about the past. Our word choices can help a reader have that deeper, richer reading experience you mentioned.

Pepper said...

"Common Core" Bwhahahah!!!

Keli Gwyn said...

Jessica, when I learned that bit about words being spoken years before they're recorded in dictionaries, I rejoiced. When I go to Google Advanced Books to check out a word that isn't in the dictionary yet but find it was being used by real live (at least they were then) people when I want it to be, I get all fist-pump happy.

Thanks for sharing in my exciting. I'm so honored to be a LIH and to get to hang out with other LIH authors like YOU. Wow!

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jackie. Today is gonna be great. Not only do I get to spend time with the awesome Seekers and Seekervillagers, but my hubby insists we head to Walmart together at some point to see if we can catch the Anderson Merchandising stocker putting the June Love Inspired Historicals on the shelf. It is her day to show up. =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Bettie, your name will definitely go into the "old-fashioned saucer" Ruthy was kind enough to offer for our drawing today. I wish you well on the writing today.

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, when I encounter modern terms in a period piece, I'm pulled out of the story, just as you are. When I encounter them in my own writing, I cringe. I hope very few of them slip past me, but when they do, I've got awesome writing partners and a savvy editor who catch them. However, even with all the editing and proofreading that goes into a LIH, I found a handful of typos in Family of Her Dreams that eluded us all. I just hope there aren't any anachronisms in it as well. If there are, I hope some on-the-ball reader will educate me. =)

Janet Dean said...

KELI, love having you post side in Seekerville! Thanks for the in-depth look at historical language. Thanks to all the authors who shared loads of great advice. Like Julie, I'm taking notes.

I used Mary Lu's advice to write an Irish immigrant heroine. I listened in the car to Frank McCourt read 'Tis, which helped me soak up the cadence and word choice. Or so I hope!

Keli, can't wait to read your LI! The cover is gorgeous!


Janet Dean said...

Mary P, thanks for sharing the point that writers can overdo the flavor and drown readers in an era. Sprinkle it in seems like good advice for most aspects of writing a novel.


Keli Gwyn said...

Glynna, this "treasure trove" of tips was made possible by the talented authors who flooded my inbox with their wisdom. Are they knowledgeable, or what? And generous. Very, very generous. I'm so grateful to them. I'm also learning from them.

Sandy Smith said...

Thanks for the very interesting post, Kelli. I love to read historical fiction, but I do think it would be more difficult to write just because of the issues of language. It does really bother me when I read a word or phrase that sounds to modern.

I would love to be entered for either of the prizes.

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for sharing those great examples of what aspects of the Japanese culture the Europeans were curious about, Walt. I'd heard about Europeans not being big into bathing. It's hard for me to understand how they could find smelling bad acceptable, but they were definitely averse to taking baths too frequently, weren't they? Let's hear it for their scented powders and such.

I like the fact that the missionaries received training in the customs of the Japanese so early on and were taught to respect their culture.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, it was me slinking off to Dictionary.com because you're so much smarter than I am!!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Keli, LOL! I was still professing my love for P&P if not "all things Austen" at ten o'clock last night!


We are more genteel this day, by nature, I believe.

Would you care for clotted cream with that scone? (which is my way of warning you the scone is pithy-dry and you need something to help swallow it!)

Missy Tippens said...

Keli, what an amazing post!! So very helpful. I haven't tried my had at historical, but I sure do love reading them. Which means there may be a story in me somewhere! :)

I totally agree with your first recommendation. To read the time period like crazy to absorb the language.

Keli Gwyn said...

Julie, I love it when my CPs or editors catch anachronisms that have inadvertently slipped into my stories. I wouldn't want a modern word or phrase ruining the fictive experience for my readers. For that reason, I avoid words that have a modern feel, even if they were in use at the time. I don't want a reader to stop and wonder if something is period or not. I want them to remain immersed in the past.

I love the phrase "workshop in a blog." When I received all these wonderful tips in response to my request, I felt compelled to share them with everyone in Seekerville. I couldn't, in good conscience, keep all that wonderful wisdom to myself.

Mary Connealy said...

Once in a historical I had a character reply, "Whatever."

Well, it really was a funny comeback for the situation and no one edited it out so it got published that way and when I read the finished product I CRINGED.

I've remembered that....an anachronism just like you said, Keli.

It was a spirited little back and forth and it fit the conversation, but it didn't fit the BOOK.

I learned a lesson from that.

Mary Connealy said...

Clotted cream always sounded like sour milk to me. Really sour.

I'm sure it's lovely.

Or maybe it's cottage cheese?

Which also sounds bad on a biscuit.

Keli Gwyn said...

Cindy, I'm with you on the dinner vs lunch issue. I'm a stickler on that in my stories. I have to set up early in a story that dinner is served midday, but that's how it was well into the 1900s. Now that my husband is retired, we're considering having our big meal at noon like they used to. I figure getting the calorie load midday when I still have a chance of working them off will help keep me in my present jean size better than when I load up at the end of the day.

Kelly Goshorn said...

Hi Keli,

What a fantastic post! So many of the posts at Seekerville get saved in a folder but this one, dear heart, gets the first red flag so I can find it easily and often. Many useful tips here for beginners like me and the experienced pros based on the comments.

I entered the first few chapters of my historical romance ms in The Olympia. The first round is judged solely by readers. One of the judges wrote that she'd checked a song the heroine is singing, convinced she'd caught me using something from a later time period. She wrote how she'd never been more pleased to be proven wrong because she'd enjoyed the entry but would have marked me very low had I used something inappropriate to the era. So the point is readers do care. That's why we read historical fiction--we want to be transported to that time and get a glimpse into how people lived "back then" whenever "back then" was.

Ok, I'm rambling but here's two books I find useful when researching for my stories set here in the USA. Ok, I actually just read it and call out interesting things to my husband who thankfully is also a history geek like me. Yes, its an actual book--with paper pages. Sorry but I'm the last of a dying breed--I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases and Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past.

Mary Connealy said...

Kathryn I have some old letters from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother and they are so interesting. It's cool what comes from reading them. Just the attitudes. If money is mentioned.

He lived away from Grandma before they were married. He went to a place for a job and his letters were about finding a home for them and getting it ready.

One thing he said was, "I found half a house. (then he describes the rooms and such-this is 1880 maybe?) I can rent it for $5 a month. There are whole houses available for $10 a month but I'd rather not spend so much."

Can you imagine rent being $5 or even $10?

Can you imagine a time when $10 was so much more than $5 it's a deal breaker?

And my great-grandfather was a LAWYER. Today lawyer=rich. Back then...I guess not.

Reading a letter like that adjusts your thinking. Takes you into the minds of those who lived back then.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Wow Keli you weren't kidding when you said you had a "whole steak knife and fork full." What super tips and good for contemporary novels as well. I remember when I wrote Love's Miracles which was about a Vietnam Vet and when I had him flashing back to the war, I was saying things like "behind enemy lines". Fortunately I had a marine read the war parts and he informed me that there were no enemy lines in Vietnam. That was terminology from WWII. I guess I watched too many WWII movies (hubby loves them).

So it helps to have a knowledgeable person do a beta read. They catch misuse of language.

Keli Gwyn said...

Pepper, I love your contributions to the post. You gave wonderful examples, showing us how a word change here or a reordering of words there can make a big difference in creating that delicious period feel. You're gonna have to get used to accolades, my dear. It's the price you pay for writing emotionally rich stories readers love, I'm afraid.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Keli, I'm laughing at your decision to eat the big meal in the middle of the day. Hubby and I tried that after retiring. All that did was lead to big afternoon naps. Well my hubby is half Spanish so I guess that it is okay to take a siesta.

If you're writing a book set in Spain, you need to be sure your characters do take a siesta.

Sorry - got off subject.

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, RUTHY, I learned the word "ubiquitous" from you! Now I just have fun popping it into casual conversation wherever it will fit! (And those occasions aren't all that easy to come by!)

Keli Gwyn said...

Deanna, when I sat down to plan this post, I quickly realized that if it were based on what I know, it would have been mighty short. That's when I had the light bulb, er, gaslight moment and thought, "Why don't I ask those who write such wonderful historical novels how they do it?" I felt kinda presumptuous contacting such highly respected authors, but I summoned my courage and hit "send." Lo and behold, these generous authors blew me away with their quick responses and awesome tips. I'd hoped for a nugget here or there. Instead I hit the Mother Lode!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Keli and Walt, a little tidbit of info I learned from my doctor. If something smells bad and it doesn't go away, a person's nose shuts off that smell. I found that out when teaching in an underground school. The air smelled so awful. Even to this day I can't smell certain smells and to be honest I count that as a blessing. So I'm thinking those Europeans who didn't bathe probably couldn't smell that odor. Their noses had been turned off to that smell.

Keli Gwyn said...

Wow, Mary, talk about giving yourself a challenge with a character. I'm sure you solved your dilemma beautifully, but I can imagine it involved working the little gray cells a bit, as Poirot would say.

I'm keeping mum about how nice Ruthy is from here on out. I've had my say, and she insists I'm all wet. So you won't hear another word from me about how very nice Ruthy is. Never again. Nope. No more mentions of Ruthy's niceness. Nada. 'Nuff said.

Keli Gwyn said...

Kav, it was the same way with me when I opened the emails from the authors. I'd read it and think a tip was brilliant and couldn't be topped, but then the next one would come, and I'd be blown away all over again. I decided the tips were all brilliant and couldn't keep these gems to myself, so I just did some 'splaining to Ruthy and sent her a mega post. I was nice and broke it into sections, though. Course that meant she had to input all those pics. But since she's nice, er, Ruthy, she took it all in stride. Not once did she block my address during our voluminous email exchange.

Thanks for ordering my book. I hope you enjoy Tess and Spencer's story. Thanks for coming to the June LIH online Launch Party yesterday. Wasn't it a blast--even if we had such a great turnout and so many comments that we kinda short-circuited Facebook?

Keli Gwyn said...

Laura, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to stop by. And thanks again for sharing your wisdom with us. You're a class act!

Janet Dean said...

I'm looking at that knife and fork for diving into this meaty post. So how would characters handle the utensils in historical times? Peas on the knife? LOL Do they lay them down between use or hold onto them continental style?



Keli Gwyn said...

Myra, I loved getting a peek into how these authors do what they do and create such captivating characters and compelling stories.

I totally get the lunch vs. dinner dilemma. Like you, I work in when the meal is taking place right away. Once I establish that, I trust the readers to remember that dinner is the midday meal and supper is served in the evening.

Vince said...

Hi Keli:

Thanks for such a great post! This could have easily been a 4-part series. But we don't have to wait. I have it safely stored in my Scrivener Writing Resource Project.

I have three things to add that I find very helpful in creating a period appropriate mindset:

(1) read several of the "This Year in History List of Events". The HistoryOrb and Wikipedia have good ones. Look at many so as to cover the greatest variety of events from historical to social. Having a feel for what was happening in the world at the time your story takes place makes you more of a citizen of that time and should help the story ring with greater authenticity.

(2) buy and hold some of the coins used at the time of your story. I've bought Roman coins on eBay for a few dollars that were in circulation during the time the story takes place. This gives me a physical link to the time I am writing about. Old coins can be very cheap if they are not key dates or in good condition.

(3) buy and read an old newspaper from the time your story takes place. I've bought old newspapers from before 1800 for about $10 because they were not key historical dates and they were not from famous newspapers. But reading what got into a newspaper in 1765 can tell you a lot about the everyday life of citizens at that time. Look at the ads. Read it from page to page. (Often they are only four pages long anyway.)

Of course, I may go overboard on this. I have a teaching minor in History but never used it. : ( (But I've never stopped reading history books.)

Again, wonderful post. A great resource.


Vince said...

Hi Tina:

If being in the Army during the Vietnam war places you in historical time, then my actually being at the Macy's Day Parade depicted in Ruth's "Red Kettle Christmas" (in the early 1950's) makes me pre-historical. I would object to this but then again, in my bones, I feel like it is true.

Keli Gwyn said...

Cindy R, I like your comment: "Just because terminology may be historically accurate doesn't mean today's readers will 'get it.'" There are times I have to sacrifice a word I want to use because its meaning has changed and using it would do more harm than good. I prefer to use the dated term braces for the thingamajigs that held up a man's trousers in the days before belts become commonplace, but I would have to do so much setup that I'd risk bogging down my story. Thus, I use suspenders for clarity's sake.

Sarah Claucherty said...

Argh...so many books to add to the towering TBR pile! Great tips and ideas (really like the research via other period-related films and books method, as well as the etymonline.com and dictionaries!), Keli & Co. ;)

Oh, to pop in to some of these time periods for a visit! Alas, I cannot, so I'll have to keep living vicariously through books like these :)

Add my name to the saucer, if you would, Keli and Ruthy!

Debby Giusti said...

Keli, such wonderful information! Thank you!

Actually, even contemporary suspense writers need the tips you provided. In my last story (sent to my editor on May 15), I used an old letter from Civil War days. I pulled up letters from that time period to get a feel for the verbiage, which a number of folks mentioned in your blog today. Even though the passage from the letter was short, having a few key words from the Civil War era provided authenticity...at least that's my hope.

So glad you could be with us today.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jeanne T, I admire contemporary authors. I tried writing a contemporary romance once, but my characters sounded old--or at least old-fashioned. Makes sense since they were speaking like young people did back in the 1970s when I was hip and happening, gals wore Dittos jeans and guys you admired were considered foxy.

Keli Gwyn said...

Myra, don't mind Ruthy. She's just trying to prove me wrong about her being nice, that's all. Compendium is a wonderful word. I love how you just plunked it in your comment with practiced ease, a testimony to how comfortable you are with period language. You rock!

Debby Giusti said...

A friend inherited an old collection of women's magazines, which were a gold mine of information about the era. Love those old ads.

I have a letter my mother wrote to her mother when she was a young Army wife. She talked about "snaps"--photos--that she was sending. She added a "swell," as well! :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kelly Goshorn, thank you for that advice on the books! And you're right, it can jerk folks right out of the story if we mess up...

But I've noticed with some genres (Regency comes to mind) that authors and some readers get beyond crazy-involved, as if calling something by a name that came into common usage a year later is wrong...

Well common usage is accepted once something is introduced somewhere, right? That always makes me draw back in fear.

Okay it doesn't really, and I'm now writing historicals too and no one has hated them YET... but it's funny how narrow some of these acceptable things are!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

We've done clotted cream by mixing sweetened whipped cream with sour cream in a 3:1 ratio.

1 cup whipped cream + 1/3 cup sour cream. Mix and chill.

Although I'm happy with whipped cream alone and I'll pretend it's clotted cream! :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Pam, if you were here, I'd throw my arms around you and give you a great big hug out of gratitude for telling me about the Google Ngrams site. Wow! What a wonderful resource! I didn't know it existed, but thanks to you it's now in my bookmark toolbar ready for frequent use. Color me happy!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Keli, thank you for getting me out of trouble with Myra!!!

I looked up compendium and I'm going to use it in a sentence at least THREE times today!

If I like, see someone, that is. Someone older than 5.

Carla Olson Gade said...

This is such a fantastic post, Keli! There's such a wealth of information in here that I thinks it's worth printing out.

Keli Gwyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keli Gwyn said...

Barbara, your comment made me smile. I'm with you. I don't like calling the room where one does one's business the toilet. Why use that when one can say necessary or office, if one is into being euphemistic, or privy or outhouse if one is more direct? LOL

Keli Gwyn said...

Must take a break. Carl (aka Gwynly, my teacher hubby who has retired so I can use his real name online now) just came home and told me he spotted a box from Harlequin sitting in the book section of our local Walmart awaiting the Anderson Merchandising stocker's arrival later this morning. I would love to see her actually putting my books on the shelf, so I'll bid you adieu for now and return as soon as I can.

Myra Johnson said...

Hey, I even used "compendium" in a Tweet today!

Compendium. Compendium. Compendium.

A ubiquitous use of the word compendium!

Gabrielle Meyer said...

I'm blown away by this post, Keli!!! It's an amazing resource tool. Thank you for taking the time to put it together. I'm definitely bookmarking this one!

One of my secrets to finding the dialogue and "voice" of an era is to immerse myself in the newspapers of the day. For weeks before I start a new story, I spend hours devouring local newspapers. Not only do I find little-known tidbits that add flavor and authenticity to my story, I also find great words to put in my charcters' mouths.

This is such a fun post!! So great to see so many friends here today. Have fun!!

Sherida Stewart said...

These are all great tips! Thank you, Keli, for a keeper post. Someday I'd like to try historical. I have my mother-in-law's diary where she writes about the "swell guy" who became my husband's father. It's fun to read.

Congratulations on your first LIH release and the successful Facebook launch party last evening. That was a BUSY time! Please put my name in the cat saucer.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Keli,
Great post! One I'll print off for future reference. Right now I'm just winging it and if something sounds a bit too modern, I figure out a different way to say it.
Congrats on your first Love Inspired! I just ordered it yesterday!

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Keli!

What a great post! You brought out a lot of details that I hadn't thought of before. Thank you!

And yes, put my name in the drawing. Your book looks wonderful :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

My five year olds are designing a compendium of construction paper houses! They are building villages!

So politically correct these days, of course, because we Northern chicks live to be politically correct.

(This is sarcasm. Just in case you thought Yankee snarks really cared about being P.C. We do, however, care about little hearts, puppies, sad souls and lost loves. But we go about it in our own somewhat snark-filled and yet beloved way!)

Ruth Logan Herne said...


"Where the Wild Things Are" Maurice Sendak


Mary Connealy said...

One thing that can be really tricky is using old and accurate language that now has become politically incorrect.

Words that, I think, had no bad connotation, dealing with Race for example, have to be tiptoed around (and I'm not just talking about of course terribly offense words, but almost any term that has become un-PC)

Very tricky

Myra Johnson said...

Newspapers--great resource, GABRIELLE! When I was actively researching my post-WWI novels, I had a paid subscription to NewspaperArchive.com. It's not cheap, but you can peruse digital copies dating many years back and from all over the world. The papers are great not only for what was going on in the world but for the advertisements that showed what people were buying.

Mary Connealy said...

I won a bottle of lotion once by knowing the name Maurice Sendak.

I was pretty upset honestly that everyone at that shower instantly knew Where the Wild Things Are but I was the only one in the room would could name the author.

A sad commentary

Mary Connealy said...

What I've had really good luck with in finding old memoirs is going to Wikipedia to research my topic and then in the wiki article it will cite sources like, "From the writing of a Civil War Guard in Andersonville" by William Whoever. Search for those. They are so often free or very inexpensive. Then if you buy one of Amazon or even search there, Amazon will start suggesting similar books. You can hunt through those. And if the price adds up, just tell yourself what a RESEARCH TRIP would cost.
Those first person essays and books really capture those moments in ONE MAN'S EYES and why not trust that. Even if they're historically wrong, it's still what they saw, what they believe happened so your character can believe it happened too.
First Person Witnesses are often compelled by personal experiences and their own fears.

MaryLu Tyndall said...

Awesome article, Keli! Wow. Thanks for including my tips. It is great to see so many great ideas from so many great authors! I'm copying this article for reference later. Blessings!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, that's great advice. I remind myself often that research for us is often a click of a button away... We are somewhat spoiled!

But I'm not sad about it!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I keep going back to the first comment from Keli, about how nice I am.

I may frame it.

And send it to Connealy.

Pepper said...

Love this idea, Gabrielle!!!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Ruthy!!

Missy Tippens said...

Sherida, how cool (or should I say groovy) to have that diary!! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Kelly Goshorn, thanks for that resource as well! It sounds great.

Lyndee H said...

Congrats, Keli! Thanks for the insightful post. Your book is in my TBR. I bought is right from Harlequin, so no need to put me in the cat dish. :)Deadlines then vacation and I get to read it! YAY!

Cara Lynn James said...

Sherida, I had to smile at your mil's diary. My mother always used to use 1940's slang in the 1950s and 1960s, much to my embarrassment. I tried to break her of the habit but I never could. Now I wish I could remember all of those words and expressions.

Heidi Robbins said...

I love all the examples and ideas! I know that next time I read a period/historical novel I will be on the watch for these in action :)

Please put my name in the hat!

Keli Gwyn said...

Okie dokie! I'm back from my trip to Walmart, followed by a celebratory Taco Bell lunch (or dinner, if you will ;-), compliments of that sweetheart of a Seekervillager, Patti Jo Moore, who sent me a gift card in honor of my book's release. Could she be any nicer?

Family of Her Dreams wasn't on the shelves when I got to Walmart, nor was the Harlequin box Carl had seen sitting in front of the section earlier in the day, so I went in search of the Anderson Merchandising representative. Mark is new, and he's really nice. He went in the back, found the box, opened it and put my debut LIH on the shelves right then and there. I've got a video clip of that memory-making moment and am attempting to load it to Facebook. The clip is short, and pretty much all you'll see is me with a Cheshire-Cat-sized grin on my face.

So, now that I've got that giddiness under control (for the most part), I'm back to respond to comments. I'm sure you missed me terribly. Or not. =)

Keli Gwyn said...

I'll start of by deleting the nameless comment I posted earlier without realizing it and re-posting the comment here so everyone knows who wrote the great book I refer to.

Erica, thanks so much for sharing your tips with us. They're great! That's no surprise, though. You're a master of period language. I was in awe of your abilities--and word choices--in The Cactus Creek Challenge, which is coming soon. Honestly, I had to repeat "Thou shalt not covet" over and over again as I read your entertaining story. Your word choices amaze and impress me!

Janet Dean said...

Vince, thanks for three great ideas for getting into the time period of our stories! I'm going to check out This Year in History for a book I'm revising.


Mary Connealy said...

Keli that is so cool you got to witness them going on the shelf!!!!!!!!!

And video taped it! Is it up on Facebook?

Janet Dean said...

Keli, wahoo!!!! Your book is on the shelves in your town! Will be heading to Walmart soon!


Myra Johnson said...

Wow, MARY, I hadn't thought about checking the Wikipedia citations for personal stories! Must remember this!

Pepper said...

Keli, I love you!!
And Ruthy is nice....some times

Keli Gwyn said...

Kathryn, those journals sound like treasures. Perhaps reading them will plant a seed and you'll end up trying your hand at a historical after all. One never knows, does one? (The oh, so proper Victorian who resides inside me tugs at her bodice and pulls up her gloves.)

How fun it is to receive a visit here in Seekerville from one of the seven people who came to that lonely B&N signing on that hot Sunday summer afternoon so long ago. (Two of them were related to me.) Thanks for your support then and now. It means a great deal to me.

I hope you have a wonderful time at your reunion, even if you did attend a rival high school. I was a proud Anderson cub who graduated in 1977, or should I say many years ago and hide my age? Naw. You've seen the real me, so you know I've seen many seasons. =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Janet, thanks again for your contributions to the post and for helping me represent our Americana period. Like you, I learned heaps from the other authors' tips.

I look forward to the day the two of us have LIHs releasing the same month and are shelf buddies. This month I'm sharing the Love Inspired section with Ruthy and Tina. Do I know how to keep good company, or what?

Keli Gwyn said...

Sandy, I actually find historical romance far easier to write than contemporary. I'm such a dinosaur that my modern language sounds dated. Plus I'm old-fashioned and don't know the popular brands of clothes, shoes and such that are in vogue today. My daughter finally brought me out of the 70s with regard to makeup a few years ago. She was tired of my tried and true pink and blue. LOL

Keli Gwyn said...

My dearest Ruthy, I would love to sample one of your scones. Please don't think me rude, but I shall pass on the clotted cream, though. (She leans closer to Ruthy and whispers her secret behind her fan.) The bustle on my Victorian gown enhancing my backside doesn't need any help. (Her face flames, and she laughs softly to cover her embarrassment at her boldness.)

Keli Gwyn said...

Missy, I would love to see you try your hand at a historical. When you served as my unpubbed Maggies contest judge all those years ago, you gave me wonderful ideas, which I used. Your fingerprints are in my debut novel, which makes me happy. If you can give me such great suggestions on how to improve my historical, I'm sure you'd do a fine job writing one of your own.

Janet Dean said...

Keli, sharing the LIH shelves with you would be fantastic!!


Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, I read a historical romance not long ago in which a character responded with "Whatever." As you said, it's a perfectly acceptable word, but used that way, it does have a modern feel. The thing is, we learn and grow as writers. I'm sure the day will come when I look back at my first books and spot many cringe-worthy examples of my inexperience. But there's so much more good in your stories to focus on. You've made me laugh until I've cried. You're a master at that. So if a reader happens to point out a small slip and make an issue of it, just smile and think to yourself, "Whatever." One teensy weensy mistake does not a career break.

Chill N said...

Keli you have given us a treasure chest brimming over with info in this post. Thank you. And congratulations on "Family of her Dreams." Neat cover!

I came across a website for "Old West" language in the period 1860-1880. The list was based on letters, periodicals, memoirs, etc. With few exceptions, the descriptions and phrases are even now used in my area of the southwest. This concerns me. Perhaps we are even more behind the times than I realized ...

Nancy C

Chill N said...

Tina Radcliffe said...
I write contemporary and yet I was loving this post. Then we got to Vietnam Era ... and I realized I lived it. I am history.

Sort of like when my child came home from freshman year in college and announced he intended to be a history major with a specialty in the Vietnam War. Then he said, "And you'll be a great resource!"

I was not only history. I was a resource.

Yes, I continued to love the child, even more so after he changed majors ;-)

Nancy C

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cara, that's such a good point. Those idioms and sayings were so timely and I don't remember most of them. So many things I wish I remembered or wrote down back then!

Jill Weatherholt said...

I'm late and for that, I apologize, Keli. What a fabulous post! I'm so happy for you and all that you've accomplished. I remember your blog from years ago, where you hosted writers pursuing their dream. I apologize for not remembering the name. I still have some fancy post-it notes that you sent me. :)
Congratulations on your latest book!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, my beloved, you are not even REALLY historical except for this silly business.

In my book, you are CURRENT AND VITAL.

And I'm a smart Toots even if I don't love, love, love every single Austen book!!! :)

Cara Lynn James said...

Kelli, I write historical too because I feel more familiar and comfortable with time periods from long ago even though I was too young to live in them. I'm afraid I'm not keeping up all the things in the current world so it's easier to write about the past.

Fabulous post!

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Loved the post, Keli. I write historicals and found this a treasure trove of fastinating tidbits. There's nothing that quite equals interviewing someone who's 104 years old with a sharp mind and memory and who lived through the historical period you're writing about. I can relate to Cara's comment above. Congrats on the release of your first with Love Inspired.

Jenny Blake said...

Pam we do call our morning and afternoon breaks Morning tea and afternoon tea.

Or if you work on a building site its smoko! (we aussies shorten everything or add an o at the end) like arvo - afternoon. Breakfast becomes breaky.

Tina Radcliffe said...

This has been a historical day. Thank you, Keli.

And anyone who would like to interview me for their next historical is welcome to send dark chocolate.

Tina Radcliffe said...

On the floor laughing, Nancy C. Maybe we could do a tour together? Two woman show??

CatMom said...

Hello Keli!! :) Sorry I am SOOOO tardy stopping in, but have been gone ALL day...but still wanted to say thank you for this wonderful post (along with the contributing authors too!). Going into my keeper file for sure.

You already know how excited I am about your LIH that's just released - - and you know I LOVED it! So happy for you, and looking forward to lots more Keli Gwyn books.

Hugs, Patti Jo

Pam Hillman said...

Oh, Jenny, I think having a breaky is just perfect! Now if I can just say it with an Aussie accent I would be so cool! :)

reflectionsbooks.org said...

This is such a cool post! I think part of my memoir may classify as a historical memoir, since part of it is set during the Vietnam Era. Great tips!

Keli Gwyn said...

Kelly, congratulations on impressing that judge with your historical accuracy. Such things do make a difference to readers who like period stories.

Thanks for sharing those resources. I'll have to check them out.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sandra, you brought out a good point. Having a knowledgeable person read a manuscript and do an accuracy check can be very beneficial. They'll spot things we never would.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sandra, you make a good point about eating the big meal in the middle of the day. We've had dinner at noon the past few days, and Carl has napped after each one. I'm not completely sure the meals are the cause, though. He's winding down from his final school year and adjusting to the idea of being retired and no longer having his life dictated by bells. Methinks that might have something to do with it.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Lots of great advice here, Keli!!! Thanks for including mine. I agree with what the others have said. :-) I work really hard to make my books accurate to the time period, but I also believe that sometimes you have to err on the side of clarity and readability. But for some reason, with my last book I've gotten a couple of reviews from people who said I used too many words from the time period they didn't understand and they thought I was just showing off. Huh? I have been scratching my head over that. I thought everything was obvious from the context, but maybe not. At the risk of sounding snarky, methinks I should remind them there is a thing called a dictionary and maybe they should use it occasionally. Ha!

Keli Gwyn said...

Sandra, thanks for sharing the observation from your doctor. It makes sense that a person exposed to a certain scent repeatedly would cease to notice it. I know that when we prepare salmon, I get used to the fishy smell fairly quickly, but if I leave the house and return, the scent hits me afresh when I return

Thus, if everyone bathed only once a week, the resulting smells would be so commonplace that no one would notice them. I'm all about including sensory details in my stories, but certain things such as this are best left alone. I prefer to think of my heroines as perfumed and pleasantly scented. =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Janet, you posed an interesting question about the use of utensils. Since that hasn't been an issue in my stories, I haven't done much research on it. I do recall an entire chapter on dining in one of my Victorian etiquette books. Being the Victorians, I'm sure there were rules aplenty. One must be proper, after all. =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Vince, those tips you shared are terrific! Thanks.

I've seen those "events by year" lists. They're a great resource. Our characters aren't isolated. They would be affected by what's going on in the world around them, and that would be reflected in their conversations. If one were to set a story in May of 1869 and didn't mention the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, I'd wonder why. That monumental event and much talked about.

I like the idea of getting some circulated coins from the years my stories take place. The mere thought of holding coins those living in that period did sets my imagination in gear.

The newspaper in my hometown of Placerville, California is the oldest in the state. Our library has issues going back to the 1860s on microfilm. When I'm in the early stages of a story, I got to the reference desk, get permission to operate the microfilm reader, load up a spool and take a trip back in time. I've learned many fascinating things from reading the ads and perusing the articles. I found an actual event that took place after a disaster back east that will make an appearance in my second Love Inspired Historical. That event adds a wonderful level of realism to the story.

I love that you have a history degree, Vince. I wish I did. Instead I learn what I need for stories as I go along.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sarah, a TBR pile can be a dangerous thing, can't it? I have three: novels, reference books and writing craft books. If only there were more hours in the day...

Keli Gwyn said...

Debby, I think it's great when I encounter bits of history in contemporary stories. After all, the past affects the present. I can only imagine what part that Civil War-era letter is going to play in your story.

Keli Gwyn said...

Debby, that letter from your mother to your grandmother must be a treasured item. I have all the letters my beloved in-laws exchanged during my father-in-law's WWII Navy days. So much history there. And a whole lot of romance, too. Who knew my serious father-in-law was once so smitten? =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Carla, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for sharing your wonderful tips with us.

Keli Gwyn said...

Gabrielle, I know what a history enthusiast you are. I can picture you pouring over those old newspapers with a gleeful smile on you face, especially when you find an intriguing fact or event you can include in one of your stories.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sherida, it sounds like that diary could contain plenty of inspiration for a historical romance. Nice!

Thanks so much for coming to the June LIH Launch Party. It was a blast, but, wow, was there ever a lot happening all at one time. We had such a great turnout and such a flood of comments that we kinda short-circuited Facebook, didn't we? I'm thankful everyone was so understanding about the delays, lockouts, etc.

Keli Gwyn said...

Susan/Sue, you say you're just "winging it" when it comes to historical language. Well, your winging it must be mighty impressive, because you've got books coming out all over the place. I'm so happy for you and can't wait to read your upcoming release.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jan, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, I encountered the PC issue on my second LIH. I referred to two Chinese gentlemen the hero has befriended with a term I didn't think was at all derogatory, but my wonderful CP educated me. Phew! I wouldn't want to unintentionally offend anyone.

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, what a great tip. I'll be looking for those memoirs and personal accounts cited in Wikipedia articles. There's nothing quite like seeing history through the eyes of one who lived it.

Keli Gwyn said...

MaryLu, thanks for stopping by--and for generously sharing your great tips with us.

Keli Gwyn said...

Lyndee, I hope you enjoy Tess and Spencer's story. I'm touched that you plan to use reading it as a reward.

Keli Gwyn said...

Heidi, thanks for stopping by today and for joining my fellow June LIH authors and me at the Facebook Launch Party last night. Fun times!

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, I did get to see the rep put my books on the shelf. Years ago when I learned that Anderson Merchandisers stocks the book sections at Walmarts, I set about finding out when and how they do it. I learned that the rep at my local Walmart usually shows up mid-day on Tuesdays to put up the new books. I saw her several times over the years and got to know her. I expected to see her today, but Mark was there instead. He was so nice and put my book on the shelf two day ahead of the others in the shipment. Pays to be a local author I guess. =)

I did get the video successfully loaded. I can't believe the number of views it's had already. I guess people enjoy seeing my Cheshire-Cat-sized grin and hearing my girlish giggle. LOL

Keli Gwyn said...

Pepper, I love you back. And I agree that Ruthy is nice, but I promised I wouldn't say that again, even if she is.

Keli Gwyn said...

Nancy, that Old West language site sounds like a great resource.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jill, thanks so much for stopping by. I have fond memories of Romance Writers on the Journey. I met so many wonderful writers through that blog, including you>.

Keli Gwyn said...

Cara Lynn, I'm with you. I can't keep up with technology. Honestly, if I go to sleep, I'll wake the next day, and things will have changed. Or so it seems. I retreat to the 1800s, where change was more gradual.

Keli Gwyn said...

Pat, I got to meet with a woman in her late 90s and ask her about her early days. What a wonderful experience that was.

Keli Gwyn said...

Patti Jo, dear sweet Patti Jo, I'm so happy to see you. I thought about you today when Carl and I enjoyed a celebratory Release Day lunch at Taco Bell, thanks to you.

Thanks for being one of my staunchest supporters and a dear friend.

Keli Gwyn said...

Melanie, thanks for your wonderful contributions to the post. According to my daughter, your stories are awesome. You're one of Adriana's favorite authors, although she does have a bit of beef with you. She doesn't think you're writing stories fast enough. She wants more, more, more. =D

ohiohomeschool said...

I really enjoyed your post. I am a lover of history and enjoyed reading through each time period. Thanks for all your work on the post.

I would love to win your new novel, and love that note pad.
Best of luck.

Sparks of Ember said...

The fun part about making the dialogue more authentic is 1) it teaches the reader a bit and 2) the language gets stuck in my head. (Which is why the tip to listen to or watch period dialogue can be so helpful. Just the rhythm and cadence being in your head can help a lot!)

Crystal L Barnes said...

Thanks for the list, Keli. This is definitely a post to hang onto. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Becky, history can be so interesting, can't it? I have to be careful when I'm in the research phase not to linger too long. Hours can pass without me even realizing it.

Keli Gwyn said...

Ember, some of my readers have thanked me for working in the historical tidbits I do. These days I try to weave them into a story in such a way that they're unobtrusive but interesting. You should have seen my early efforts, though. Portions of the stories I wrote when I was a florescent green newbie writer read like history books. LOL

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for stopping by, Crystal. I'm glad you found the post beneficial. I had a lot of help with it, as you can see. =)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Keli! :-) Tell Adriana I am writing as fast as I can and will have 3 books for her to read next year and one more this year. :-)

Keli Gwyn said...

Melanie, I passed on the good news to Adriana. She's going to be one happy reader.

That's a lot of books in a short time. Sounds like you're part of the zippy fast writers club, along with Erica Vetsch and others I know. I'm impressed.

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Olivia said...

Thanks, Keli, for the detailed blog. I have skimmed it and will print for reading later. The posts this week are making my head swim. Please put my name in the Royal Albert saucer for the delightful prizes.

Keli Gwyn said...

Olivia, this is definitely a meaty post, and that's the truth. It's a good one to save for later when you can digest the material one bite at a time. =)

Keli Gwyn said...

Thank you so much for inviting me, Ruthy. I've had a blast. Thanks to all the authors who contributed to the post. You rock! And thanks to the Seekers and Seekervillagers for the many wonderful comments and kind words.

Robin Willson said...

How fun! Loved reading this.
As a reader of a great deal of historical fiction I find I have to be careful when I talk as I sometimes use words from another time period.
It's more embarrassing when I've been reading book with a male-dominated character. ;)

Keli Gwyn said...

Robin, your comment made me chuckle. I can just imagine have some historical terms slip out in conversation today. The looks on the faces of those who heard them would be fun to see.

What are some of your memorable examples of Historic Speak escaping?