Yo, mistuh, youse got a toga I can borrow?
Feb/23/2012 08:28 AM Filed in: Writing
When writing historical fiction, what tone will pull the reader into the time period without jarring his or her sensibilities? If we get it down with complete accuracy, it's apt to be unreadable, especially if the time period goes back more than a couple of hundred years. I recently had a review that complained that The Bow of Heaven contained too much bad language and violence. We're talking about Republican Rome. Clearly, the reviewer had never read any Catullus. If anything, the book contains a fraction of the grit one would encounter walking the slums of the Subura. The point is, the reader already had expectations of how the book should 'sound,' and if your version does not match hers, there's not much you can do about it.
At least when it comes to ancient history, it's hard to avoid falling into faux-Shakespearean flowery. Unfortunately, much of our preconceptions about the tone of historical fiction comes from the movies, accents aside. Although it's been over 50 years and I still can't forget the masterful work Tony Curtis did bringing a little bit of Brooklyn to Spartacus.
Myself, I strive for a cross between Derek Jacobi and Peter O'Toole. (Only partially kidding.)
Any writer of books about ancient Rome is bound to get it wrong. Unless we're writing in Latin and have a burning need to sell in the single digits. Here's my take: if it's a whopping great tale, getting the tone 'right' is less of a concern. Slightly.