Or how do we use ‘words’, ‘names’, and other things in our writing…

I don’t think any author today goes to the extent J. R. R. Tolkien, HERE

Many authors use ‘unusual’ names, especially in fantasy, space opera, or other genres. David Weber used differently spelled names to show language drift in his Safehold series for example.

Names are another thing that can be used to ‘cue’ the readers to the time period. Modern names don’t really work in historical fiction or westerns. For example, Wendy didn’t become a ‘name’ until the early 1900s in the Peter Pan story.

Made up names are another way to do that, too. I use a random name generator, HERE, for my series, as it does country specific names, in addition to some bio data if desired. Here is a random Native American name/bio-

Gender: Masculine
Type: Adult
Nationality: American
Location: Montana, United States
Language: English
Life & Times
Age: 49
Birth date: September 28, 1974 (10:43 AM)
Height: 163 cm / 5 ft 4 in
Weight: 42 kg / 94 lbs
Handedness: Right
Blood type: A+
Future Outlook
Death date: September 30, 2063 (12:38 AM)
Lifespan: 89
Cause of death: Alzheimer’s

Another thing you can do is ‘structure’ dialog to break out characters. An example, provided by the gent that corrects my bad Spanish, is that the older generation of Hispanics who learned English as a second language NEVER use contractions when they speak or write. They were never taught to use them!

Depending on the genre, say westerns, some use of dialect can also be used to add color to the story. This is the way I do it-

Jeb rode up with three hands from the Nevell place, and Alice smiled. “Thank you for coming. I know this is short notice—”

Evan, the oldest of the Nevell hands, laughed. “We wuz wonderin’ what took y’all so long. Y’all been mooning around each other for the last month and a half. Plain as the nose on yer face!”

Bryce, stoic and hunched, merely smiled, and Skeeter nodded. “Proud to see it.” He glanced over at Anna. “Proud to see both y’all hitched. We wuz always worried them Kidd boys gettin’ stupid.”

I would also note it can be overdone. What I do it to try to replicate the sound of the word in addition to dropping letters, and different word choices.

Lastly, research! There are a lot of ways to find period information on the web for the genre you’re writing in. It might be food, economics, weapons, transport, or??? I would caution to always cross check your data, once you find it, and remember that you don’t HAVE to include all of that data in your writing, just use enough to get the ‘point’ across!

Oh yeah, and watch out about using acronyms. The same acronym may not mean the same thing to all readers! (learned THAT the hard way)… sigh



Linguistics… — 7 Comments

  1. Did you ever play the Naval Acronym game? Take any 2 or 3 letter combination – you probably know an acronym for it.

  2. Got to be careful with names. If they get too complicated it becomes hard to follow the story. Most people in the Anglosphere can easily distinguish between Dave and Steve, but make up some weird names that are too similar and it quickly becomes difficult.

    Notice that even Tolkien generally kept names dissimilar and easy to distinguish for his fiction versus his world building (keeping also in mind that the names in his world building changed regularly as he revised. I’ve read much of his Histories and they can be very difficult to follow as you have to constantly refer to Christopher’s notes about what might or did change.) I think it’s also worth noting that world building is essential if you are writing outside basic human history. Consistency and so forth.

  3. I’ve noticed that some detail helps build realism, but too much can slow the story or make it dated quickly.
    For example, one book written 20 years ago could be set today – except that it has a specific reference to a Pentium computer being the best available. Removing that would make it more timeless.

  4. Something I’d mention also is that in the 1800s to early 1900s people tended to spell phonetically. The first 3 letters of my last name are Von but my Great, great, great grandfather’s civil War records and headstone spell it Vun. When my grandparents pronounced it, the O had a U sound. Which leads me to – dialects change over time. My grandparents had a more pronounced Appalachian Mountains, King’s English dialect than my parents and me. I think radio and TV had a lot to do with that. But I will still throw “reckon” and “don’t hold with” into conversations now and then.

  5. Hey Old NFO

    Is it bad that I totally understood that word salad you threw up to prove a point? LOL Words have changed a lot and words that wwre used 20 to 30 years ago are not used anymore, I was watching reruns of “Adam-12” and I could understand the lingo because I can bridge the time, but the younger people would totally be lost see, can you dig it?

  6. I have a copy of the 1966 DX Callbook, a listing of all ham radio operators in the world. It’s a great resource for names. I did have a copy of the 1966 US Callbook but at some time, it disappeared.

    In my current WIP, I use ‘Miz’. It was used when addressing married women or widows in the ’20s through the 50s. I remember my father addressing a neighboring widow as ‘Miz Davis.’

  7. Xoph- CPA… Closest point of approach 🙂

    Hereso- Yep, and I purposely violated that in Rimworld…LOL

    Jonathan- Agreed!

    Mike- Excellent point! And yes, the Appalachians are a ‘special case’.

    Bob- Concur.

    Mike- Oh, that would work too! And yes Miz or Mizz.