25 June 2007

Watch your language!

Speak proper English. How many times have we been told that by parents, teachers, etc? But slang creeps its way into everyone's life. There's slang that's localized and some that is confined to different periods or age groups. As writers, slang helps us give our readers a sense of time and place. But how much slang is too much?

While editing my 1920s era manuscript, It Takes Moxie, I discovered there's a fine line between slang giving a story flavor and pulling a reader out of the flow of the story. I was asked to replace many of my 'fella's with the word 'guy'. I try to keep my dialogue as true to the era as possible, taking out 'fella' made me wince -– it would be like replacing 'gentleman' with 'guy' in a regency. But, I also understood my editor's point of how too many fellas are distracting (while reading, not in real life ;) ). Guy is such a common word today that it becomes somewhat invisible to a reader, fella doesn't. So, I cut my use of that word drastically.

But, that doesn't mean we have to get rid of all our slang. I also referred to someone as being 'a modern'. The word modern was used like a noun in the Jazz Age, meaning someone who was free-thinking and up to date on the trends. I fell in love with the term when someone referred to Joan Crawford as being a modern in the old silent movie, Our Dancing Daughters. I think using somewhat obscure terms throughout our books gives readers a little peek into the past. When you add music and clothing from the era, you can transport your readers to a time otherwise denied them. What a wonderful gift –- use it wisely.