Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Revising Historical Romance - checking your usage

Sorry to have missed last week's post, but I was in the thick of NaNoWriMo.
I won, which I'm very excited about, by the way. It wasn't easy, especially because I'm polishing a manuscript for a request I received and I have two little ones and Grammy lives about 10 hours away.


The last step for me (both when I do my personal edits, and again when I do final post beta reader revisions) is to remove or change repetitive words and double check usage. There's nothing worse than having a modern word slip into your historical novel because you are so used to using it in your modern life. Occasionally, I will use an online dictionary like Merriam-Webster
because it will often list first known use. I also use phrase origin websites, like I use a few specific web sites to check my usage most of the time. Each is helpful in it's own way, but like all internet research, each should also be taken with a grain of salt.

Online Etymology Dictionary
This is a great place to check single words. This is where I find out if using the word twit for a stupid person is appropriate for my 1795 WIP, Walking Through Hellfire. It's not, by the way. The word twit wasn't used to mean foolish until the early 20th century.
 Drawback - Some words were used for a while, then went out of popularity. If you use this site in a vacuum, you might use "betwixt" in your Victorian novel.

Google Books 
Google Books is a great place for discovering if a phrase was used during a certain time period.Since the search tools allow you to search by a range of years, and I use quotes around the phrase to see if it appears in any books between those years. For example, I might use it to discover whether or not they used the term "lay eyes on" between 1775 and 1815. They did, by the way.
 Drawback - There are some modern annotations on some of the magazines. (The Spectator is a particularly bad offender.) Be sure to check the book, if there are not many examples of a phrase or word in use. Also check context to be sure it was being used as you are using it.

My final research tool for usage is Writer's Dream Tools. Now this is one I use less for final usage checks, than I do to get a feel for the time. Plus, it's just fun. There are a number of tabs to choose from  Events, Decades, Humor, Cliches, Lists, Slang, and Quotes. It's an interesting site. You can check out decades from 1650 - 2000. And there is quite a bit of info about political, social, and economic climate, as well as sections on personal tastes, like fashion, entertainment, and music. There are also sections on science and slang. For instance, according to the site, Homeopathy was founded in Germany during the 1790s.
 Drawback - The last four features (Cliches, Lists, Slang, and Quotes) require a subscription. I haven't got one, so I couldn't tell you if it's worth it.
Fun Fact
They also have a This Day In History feature. According to the site, the first American national nudist association was formed today, just at the beginning of the great depression.

Check out the sites and have some fun. If you feel like sharing, I'd love to hear some of the sites or books you can't live without when you research or edit. And please, don't feel you have to stick to historical romance. If you have a great site for looking up criminal codes in modern day Britain, please share.

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