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 Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.

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Al Stevens
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PostSubject: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Tue Jun 15, 2010 12:46 am

I'm pounding out a novel set in the early 1960s. Lots of dialogue. I was a young adult in that era, and I thought I'd recall with some precision what the slang of the day was. And jargon (work-speak). And cliches.

Striving for accuracy and believability, I don't want the characters using verbal idioms that had not come into use yet. "At the end of the day," "you got it," "if it walks like a duck," "the bottom line," "bro," "homey," etc. If the characters use those expressions, today's readers will know what they mean, but the characters will be out of place, era-wise.

I also don't want them using slang that nobody today recognizes. Example: calling your car your "short" was hipster lingo then, but even people of my generation don't recall it.

They rerun old Peter Gunn episodes on the RTN channel. Half of the slang there is unrecognizeable. The other half is corny.

That's a problem. It wasn't corny then, but it is now. Do you want your hard-boiled gumshoe saying, "Yeah, Daddy-o. Take five."

My wife helps me check on such usages. She reads a lot and remembers better than I do. If I mention an expression, she can often remember when she first heard it, who said it, what they were wearing, etc. I can't do that.

Another good source is old movies. The serious ones tend to be kind of stiff and stuffy. You find more down-to-earth speech in comedies and spoofs. Some of the cable channels run these movies regularly. I hate having to sit thtough them, though. Anything with Dean Martin usually serves up a few good examples.

I'm thinking about getting this.
http://www.amazon.com/Dictionary-Cliches-James-Rogers/dp/0345338146

So, what do you think? Fit the slang to the reader's generation or to the character's?
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lin
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Tue Jun 15, 2010 3:11 am

I don't see how that book can help you do that.
There are LOTS of internet dictionaries of slang from different areas, eras and cultures.

Oftenhand, I can't think of anything more useless than a collection of cliches. If they're cliches, you'll know them, right?
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LC
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:21 am

I read Amazon reader reviews of popular books to try to understand what excites and annoys readers. One of the reviewers for "Bonfire of the Vanities" said how much he enjoyed reading about New York "pre-Starbucks and cellphones." (lol, were the 80's that long ago?) Point being that Wolfe managed to bridge that era and today while still "keeping it real." There was also a lot of 80's jargon in that book, but since it was matched so well with the 80's setting, nothing seemed corny or hard to relate to.
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Al Stevens
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Tue Jun 15, 2010 2:47 pm

What annoyed me about "Bonfire of the Vanities" was, typical of other Tom Wolfe books, the contrived and unbelievable ending.
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alj
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Tue Jun 15, 2010 6:24 pm

Al, my suggestion would be to just let go. You were around then. You know how people talked. Just let them do it. Get into the character and trust yourself to speak the way s/he speaks.

Ann
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dkchristi
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Wed Jun 16, 2010 4:06 pm

I tend to agree with Ann. As an essayist, when I use dialogue it's very necessary to the scene. I just read a book that was entirely dialogue, and I was amazed at how the author brought in all the backstory information so cleverly. It's a skill I seek.

Dialogue in real life tends to be so rambling and unfinished. I was advised to listen to conversations and write them to work on my own dialogue issues. I'm still a long way from there...

Back to my point. Once you have finished your novel with the best capture of the words you want, your wife's review and a comparison perhaps to other short stories of the 60's (plays are good for that too) may help you polish words.

If I worry too much about dialogue, it's such a stumbling block for me that I do not write at all! As I have said before, we all have our own style and methods. I do have emphathy for any dialogue issues....
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LC
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Wed Jun 16, 2010 9:12 pm

Al Stevens wrote:
What annoyed me about "Bonfire of the Vanities" was, typical of other Tom Wolfe books, the contrived and unbelievable ending.

The newspaper articles at the end were fun, though.

About today's readers and past decades' jargon. I recall a scene where McCoy asks his girfriend about another man -"Think he was making a play?" In the context, it's obvious that he's asking, "Was he hitting on you?" I think as long as super-arcane words and phrases aren't used (like calling a car a "short,") it should be ok.
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dkchristi
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PostSubject: Re: Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.   Wed Jun 16, 2010 10:46 pm

This discussion reminds me of a play at school in which I had to say, "Come here, you stud muffin." We all thought it was hilarious but none of us would ask what a stud muffin was. The play was a comedy, but it lost some laughs with some of the language.

Also, in the70's my spouse and I had standing room only tickets for lots of plays in London, just to get a lot of flavor. The drama was wonderful; but in the comedies, everyone was laughing while we stood there stone-faced.

I have noticed recently that the authors who are accustomed to their books being turned into movies, write books full of dialogue and almost reading like a screen play already.

The dialogue in plays seems to reflect the idioms of the times.
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Period piece: Slang, jargon, cliches, etc.

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