Another #Free #writingtips list! LfMM 100 non-#Regency Words to Avoid

Anachronisms pull the reader out of the story like no other writing issue can. My novels are predominantly set during the period of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1811-12) in the Regency period in England (1811-1820). Because of this, I try my best to ensure that I don’t use language that was coined at a later date. Some non-Regency words are subtle and not that important, but some can have a jarring effect on the reader. The last thing you want is that WTF moment because of language you could have easily avoided.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes Lesson 14: When writing in a specific period in history, use good judgement to choose language and scene setting used that suits that period and doesn’t include obvious anachronisms or incongruities with the period.

This article is focused upon language of the Regency period.

Over the years I’ve been writing, I’ve developed an extensive list of words that were not in use before 1813. My simple 6-page alphabetical listing has roughly 750 words, and a longer (65 page) document lists alternate choices for many of the more common words and phrases that are non-Regency. These were generated for the most part by beta readers and editors catching me in my writing. I am simply the person who recorded the incongruity.

I use the Online Etymology Dictionary and Johnson’s Dictionary of 1806, 1812, and 1836 (via Google Books) as references, as well as other Regency era Google books. The full Oxford English Dictionary is another excellent reference, but it’s too expensive for me.

This blog post contains a sample of the most common words that were not in use during the Regency, plus a few that were in use in a different sense during that time and some non-Regency non-British language words, since most Regency romances are set in England. For fun, I’ve broken the words down to headings that will be of interest to writers and readers alike. I’ve thrown in some okay Regency words that are interesting as well.

Most commonly noticed in non-Regency words in Regency novels, considering how contemporary they are:
Mesmerize (1862 for “sense of enthral”; prior it meant a specific type of hypnotism.)
Normalcy (1920 outside of mathematics.) Normal, abnormal are also non-Regency.
Guffaw (A Scottish word, not used in England before 1836, and then low classed.)
Livid (Before 1912 it was a colour.)

The modern words and expressions that jarred me out of the era when I read them in actual Regency romances:
“Get yourself together.”
“No worries.”
“…plead the fifth.” (set in England!)
“That was (a time period) he’d never get back.”
“…playing head games.”
“Where had that come from?”
“Going through the motions…”
“…brutally honest.”
“…let it slide.”
“Hissy fit.” (1983)
Morphed (1955)
Gobsmacked (1985)
Snit (1935)
Hello and okay, both American and not used in Britain until the 20th century.
Contractions used for higher-class and intelligent characters. They were slang then.

Most over-used words from Austen by JAFF writers (these are okay words for the Regency era):
Impertinent
Sardonic
Alacrity
Panegyric
Pedantic
Obsequious
Sensible for sensitive
Handsome for pretty. The former means sublime and the latter means natural beauty.
“Superior sisters” for the Bingley ladies.
“Breaking their fast” (Austen used the word breakfast.)

Note: I’ve been guilty of using some of these words too much, too!

Worst American non-Regency words and phrases (most are also not modern British English either):
Gotten
Outgoing
Upcoming
Reckon
“Right now” for “at present”
Store for a shop, including in compound words
Braid for plait
Corn for maize
Stage for stagecoach
Jeopardize
“Nice” to describe a person
“I guess”
“Visit with” for chat
Write or wrote instead of “write to” or “wrote to”

Some surprising and not-so-surprising words and phrases that were not used in the Regency, yet Regency romance authors love them:
Décolletage, décolleté, neckline
Debutante (for come-out)
Society, as in high society
Socialize
Compromise, as in trap into marriage
Bounder, poser
Cad (It meant cadet.)
Acerbic
Adore
Breathy
Sashay
Outerwear
Misfit
Fiancé, fiancée
Fingertips—use “fingers” instead.
Foyer
Delusional
Spar (for argument)
“Sheet music”
Sex or “Making love” for sexual relations
Bah!
“Chimed in”
“Old man” or “old chap”

Another error is Australia and Canada as countries. They were not yet countries, they were groups of separate colonies with different names. Thus Halifax, Nova Scotia was not in Canada, and Upper Canada and Lower Canada combined were called “the Canadas.”

The spellings realise, scrutinise, and organise are not Regency. Realize, scrutinize and organize are the correct Regency spellings, whereas today either spelling is acceptable for British English, and the latter are correct American spellings.

Hardest non-Regency words to find replacements for:
Snob
Burp. All synonyms are low-classed.
Assess/evaluate/“take stock of”/scan/scour (for looking at a person)
Contact/connect/interact/liaise
Pouty
Bored/boring as in nothing is interesting. Reword to use ennui, tiresome, or tedious.
Corridor, hallway, and passageway are American.

Okay Regency words and phrases that surprised me!
Electric, electrify in the figurative sense (1787 and 1752).
Heavy meaning serious.
Gift as a verb for giving something.
“Beat about the bush.”
“At sixes and sevens.”
Fall for autumn was acceptable and became an Americanism much later.

New words that may fit your story:
Histrionics (1820)
Millionaire (1821)
Catarrh (1828)
Bobbinet (1809)
Gawp (1825)

Words out of style in the Regency that came back into use in the 1830s:
Doff, don were considered archaic from the mid-1700s.

Words with a bigger meaning during the Regency period:
Terrific: think very, very terrible! A terrific headache is your worst migraine.
“Magnificent!” “Marvellous!” “Wonderful!” were grand exclamations, not just “That’s fine/good.”
Chuckle meant to guffaw until the 1820s, so I use it only where it works for both definitions so savvy readers won’t mind! Remember, guffaw is not proper in the Regency.

Words with a lesser meaning:
Disgusting: think holding your nose in the air or being slightly disappointed as opposed to vomiting in your mouth as a reaction to a disgusting person.

Words with many meanings now that had only a few of our modern uses in the Regency to the point where I try not to use them unless consciously in the one Regency-appropriate situation!
Checked
Headed, heading
Tension, strain, mood

Words whose meaning changed or definitions were added:
Attitude meant stance not a state of mind or antagonism.
Bony meant “strong, stout, full of bone,” lusty meant “stout, healthy, able of body,” and stout meant sturdy, but did not mean fat.
Snort and tic were literal and only described animals’ actions, and nothing related to a human reaction, commentary, or feeling.
Condescending and affable described a person of higher rank who made the effort to be nice to a person of lower rank, different than our modern usage.
Genteel to describe upper class people was only used by “ignorant” lower class people.
Sensual meant lewd or unchaste, a more negative connotation than the modern one.

General advice on how to deal with non-Regency words:

  • Note that there are probably well over 1000 words on most Regency editors’ lists that would surprise you as not being Regency, and thousands more very modern words and expressions (related to technology, science, medicine, social media, entertainment, space, psychology, politics, economics, etc.) that most attentive authors would know to skip.
  • Get used to paying attention to words when you self-edit. If a word is suspect as modern, look it up in the Online Etymology Dictionary.
  • Keep a list of your own most commonly used non-Regency words and do a search for them in your writing. Add Regency-appropriate synonyms to your list for future reference.
  • A good source for synonyms is the former Austen Thesaurus, now Write Like Jane Austen, but take care, as some modern definitions have been used in some of the synonyms listed.
  • Sometimes you’ll have to rephrase because you can’t find the exact synonym. Good writing techniques suggest avoiding too many prepositions, though.
  • It’s always the author’s choice. You may put a Victorian parasol with your Regency costume just like you may have your reasons to choose to use some words knowing they’re modern. Just beware that your readers are savvy, and too many hits of non-Regency words will take them out of the era, therefore become disengaged from your story. Essentially, one area of author lack of attention will ruin it for all your effort on the rest of the novel.

Limited time offer: For your copy of my alphabetized list of about 750 non-Regency words, leave your email (spelled out with spaces such as “username at gmail dot com”) in the comments before July 19, 2017.

All follows and comments become entries for the gift package draw at the end of this series, which will include a signed copy of my novella A Most Handsome Gentleman (fall 2017 release) as well as some handmade and signed Suzan Lauder Regency costuming gifts.

For simplicity’s sake, I hope the little list in this post proves a useful start for Regency writers!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

Special end note: I’m in Port Alberni next weekend for a fun costuming event: the town of 25,000 is attempting the Guinness record for people dressed in Regency costume on Saturday, July 14, and I hope you’re there as part of the count, as we’re going to beat the 2009 record of 409 people! I’m joined by Austen Variations author Shannon Winslow and Regency romance novella author Helena Korin for a readings event and signings, as well as my sister and Mr. Suze. I’ve made some new costuming items, and my sister did brilliantly by following my Regency Costuming Cheat Sheet! I’ll share the results in a couple of Thrift Shop Regency Costuming Experiment posts!

Learning from my Mistakes: Theory of Relativity for Writers, or how to use Point of View

Over the last few years, Romance novels have undergone a profound change, where the point of view (POV) within the story is now almost always Third Person Limited, Close, or “Deep POV.” This is hard for some writers who are accustomed to writing in a voice called Omniscient Narrator (ON), which is much easier to tackle and is familiar, especially to older writers, since so much of what we have written during our lives has been impersonal, particularly professional writing.

The up-and-coming New Adult romance genre almost exclusively uses first person POV. This preference is a result of New Adult’s growth out of the Young Adult genre, which uses first person POV a great deal. It also focuses on Deep POV, where the reader is not just being told the story, but the reader’s head is almost inside the narrator’s head.

What does all this mean? Here is a summary of what I’ve learned, with some more of my Learning from My Mistakes rules and external links.

ON versus Third Person Limited

Think of the POV as a camera: if you are writing in ON, you are allowed to see and show everyone’s point of view. In this case, the camera is up high, almost an eagle’s view, showing the entire scene on behalf of all the characters in the story. It can focus on one or more characters, but there’s a catch—the voice is that of the narrator, and not that of the character. That is, the narrator tells the story, expressing the viewpoints of each character.

Head-hopping can add confusion as to whose point of view is being represented.

It’s advisable to limit the number of characters who are “speaking” and to show clearly when that character’s viewpoint is over. Otherwise, the story winds up having a condition known as “head-hopping” where the reader can become confused as to who is having these particular thoughts.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from my Mistakes Lesson 10: Avoid head-hopping like the plague!

 

Both ON and Third Person Limited are third person voices. The main difference is that in Third Person Limited, the story is told in the voice of the character and not a narrator. Using the camera analogy, the camera is sitting on the shoulder of one of the characters, and is almost in their head. This is as close to first person as third person gets. In fact, you can write Third Person, Limited POV in first person then change to the person’s name or a pronoun to achieve this POV for each of your characters. Further limiting the number of characters with a voice, this POV should have no more than four lead POVs, and Lesson 10 is imperative, not just a great idea.

One point of view per section or chapter, with clear markings when it changes.

Many Romance novels use only the voices of the hero and heroine, and change them by chapter. I recently read a novel by mature Regency romance author Tessa Dare where the character’s voice changed within a chapter; however, she used an extra line break to signal the reader to the change in POV speaker within a scene. I prefer changing only by scene and using a section break or scene separator, which is a graphic like a curlicue, to show this change within a chapter.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from my Mistakes Lesson 11: To avoid a choppy or head-hopping effect within a chapter, use an extra line break, a graphic section break, or a scene separator when changing point of view.

In the initial draft of Letter from Ramsgate, I’d used Deep POV with four characters and section breaks for all character POV changes, but had a longer section where I showed reactions of all the characters in the scene, including a minor character, and had it as one section. My anonymous beta editor suggested that I cut those who were not main POV characters and reword so the information could be told by a main POV character.

A good way to discover which POVs are important is to put in the section breaks as per Lesson 11 through one chapter that’s busy with characters. This will show the choppy head-hopping sections, encourage the author to change the story to reduce unnecessary POVs, and help set a direction as to what is the most important information to retain. It’s always possible to find a way to reveal a non-POV character’s motivation and character without “telling” it.

Deep POV

A further enrichment of Third Person Limited, the great advantage to Deep POV is the reader is so close to the character, they almost feel as if they are in the story, and a more profound effect results. I recall the first time I read this style. It was a novel by author Catherine Gayle with a hilarious and very realistic virginal sex scene from the female protagonist’s POV. It was such amazing writing, I wanted to write like her and wanted to know how to do so! I thought it was just Catherine Gayle’s personal style until I read Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View from a recommendation by MP author Karen M. Cox.

Deep Point of View is achieved with a character-driven story with tight characterization, a minimum of POV characters (usually two), a lack of filter words, a “show, don’t tell” style, and a certain amount of introspection, though care must be taken not to overdo this latter aspect.

What are filter words? Because the story is being told by the character and not the ON, there is no “He thought, knew, felt, saw, smelled, heard, wondered, pondered, etc.” The character just does these things without thinking. The author is challenged to show, not tell, these filter words, as in Lesson 9.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes Lesson 12: Change filter words of thought, feeling, and senses to make the POV deeper and enhance the reader experience.

 

This useful article by Jodie Renner covers many of the main points of Deep POV. Deep POV is not just for third person, but can also be used to enhance first person writing.

First Person

This is the “I” POV. Not much else to say, except you’re stuck with one character’s eyes through the entire story.

I thought I’d never use this until I started writing A Most Handsome Gentleman (my latest novella, in editing for publication by Meryton Press this fall) and it just came out of me that way. I had a lot of fun with it, and it worked well for a comedy!

Many famous books use this POV, but for some reason, a certain number of readers don’t much care for it. It can be difficult if the author wants to sneak in a second person’s POV, but it’s always possible to do excellent characterization and motivation of another protagonist through a first person narrator’s eyes, as is done routinely in Young Adult and New Adult writing these days.

As noted, deep POV can be used for first person—just eliminate those filter words as in Lesson 12 above.

Mixed POVs

One of my earliest A Happy Assembly stories Performing to Strangers mixed first person and ON, and separated them by scene. In the ON scenes, the POV was clearly the male protagonist, and the female protagonist was in the first person scenes. It was a moderate success, with a bit of reader confusion. That’s why many experts recommend against switching from one style to another in a story. Changes in POV style are not recommended and if done, section breaks are even more necessary than with the POV character changes.

A slight exception is Deep POV, where it’s permissible to break up the depth by brief ON scene setting every so often at the start of a scene. A scene in Letter from Ramsgate was about to be told by Georgiana, but first, I described the guests at Pemberley as they lazed on the lawns. I tried to make it seem like Georgiana’s POV until I read about this exception. It could easily have been her thoughts or a camera high in the sky, but the generalized tone broke up the heaviness that can come with being in one head at a time for long time periods. It was one short paragraph, then I zoomed tight for her POV.

I read a JAFF novel where the bulk of the story was in ON, then all of a sudden, the author had gone into the character’s thoughts, using an introspective type of style different than the bulk of the novel, and head-hopped while doing this, without enough cues as to who was doing the thinking. I was jarred and had to go back to re-read.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes Lesson 13: Be consistent with your POV selection.

 

How to Choose?

With several main POV types to use and four rules suggested by my experience in writing and reading, an author can be overwhelmed in deciding which is best for their story. Sometimes the easiest style is not the best for your readers, and you have to work for good communication. Sometimes you have to be consistent with the genre in which you are writing. For example, Third Person Limited, Deep POV, two speakers (male and female protagonist) is best in most romance novels, though hipper subgenres such as New Adult and Chick Lit utilize first person a great majority of the time. Sometimes, like in my experience with A Most Handsome Gentleman, the choice is easy.

There are tons of articles touting one POV over the other, and a lot of what you’ve read in this one may assist you. However, if you’re still unsure, check out this excellent article by Janice Hardy that explores the pitfalls of each POV.

Of course, there are exceptions to everything, and many famous authors have achieved success with exceptions. But when you think you can be the exception, ask yourself: are you truly as talented as that Pulitzer-Winning author? A reply of “yes” is rather bold. Don’t be caught as a diva by kidding yourself in your vanity! The rules are made for us “regular” authors who love to improve our craft and don’t ever sit on our laurels and say we’re the best.

Have fun picking your POV!

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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Take a pause: LfmM on commas.

Remember back in school when they told you that if you read a sentence and there’s a natural pause, a comma is necessary? I followed that advice until I realized that half my commas were in the wrong places, so I had to learn to forget that advice. I don’t know about you, but I pause where commas are not appropriate and vice-versa.

The better habit is to learn to recognize when you need that comma by “the rules” and practise, practise, practise. The first and most common situation is the complex sentence.

Before I continue, I must clarify that I’m going to speak only to the simplest of cases.

To recognize a complex sentence, look for two complete sentences of equal importance with a joining word (conjunction) but different subjects. This is best done by looking for the new subject in the second part of the sentence then checking to make sure it has its own verb. In a complex sentence, each of the two sentences are properly referred to as an “independent clause.”

You also have to learn which conjunctions (joining words) deserve a comma. But, and, which, yet, for, or, and so are the most common ones. The Editor’s Blog’s article has many examples of where they are used and not used.

Because I read pauses before the conjunctions that don’t normally get a comma (they signal a dependent clause), I found it important to learn some of them as well. As, where, since, that, while, when, and because are the most common ones. This article from Grammar Monster has a listing that’s helpful as well as examples to help you understand more than my little explanation.

Watch carefully not to use the comma when the object end of the sentence has two complete sentences, though! In that case, they’re called “dependent clauses” because they sort of lean on the first part of the sentence rather than form a new one. Grammar Monster has a useful link with examples to help learn these situations.

If a chunk in the middle of the sentence can be pulled out and the sentence makes sense if you read it with the chunk missing, it’s probably what’s called a “parenthetical phrase.” Think like you could put it in parenthesis, except that parenthesis are rarely used in fiction. This phrase is usually separated out by two commas, but if it’s a total change in direction of thought, the em-dash is used.

If you re-name a noun in a sentence, the second one is called an appositive. My trick to knowing if the appositive deserves commas or not comes from the editing of Alias Thomas Bennet for publication. Meryton Press copy editor/proofreader/layout editor (yes, she’s all that and a cover artist too!), Ellen Pickels marked explanations on two sentences similar to the following:

Mr. Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam joined him in the call to Hunsford.

Lady Catherine was speaking to her daughter, Anne, on the settee.

My “trick” is to remember the “Mr. Darcy’s Cousins” examples. The simple explanation to the reason there is no comma for Colonel Fitzwilliam and commas for Anne deBourgh:

  • Mr. Darcy has more than one cousin, so Colonel Fitzwilliam doesn’t get commas.
  • Lady Catherine has only one daughter, so Anne gets commas.

The “proper” explanation relates to restrictive and non-restrictive appositives. Yeah, sounds scary! In the first italicized sentence, “Colonel Fitzwilliam” is a restrictive appositive. The appositive is necessary for the reader to know which of Mr. Darcy’s cousins is there. In the second sentence, if Anne was removed, the sentence would have the exact same meaning. This is called a non-restrictive appositive. It’s easier for me to remember many cousins and one daughter, though. Chicago Manual of Style has another way of explaining it that may help if I’ve mucked it up worse in your mind!

When a sentence appears to be complex with a parenthetical phrase (perhaps a prepositional phrase) that can be pulled out, it becomes confusing as to where the comma goes—before or after the “and?” That is, the “and” may appear like it should stay with the sentence, leading you to believe the comma goes after it. In some cases, that is correct. But when?

Gail Warner, my Meryton Press editor for my two novels and most recent novella, taught me a trick. “If you pull out the phrase, would you use the comma in front of the ‘and?’” So if the second sentence is part of the end of the first sentence (dependent clause) you wouldn’t use a comma if the phrase was missing. In that case, the comma goes after “and.” If you have a pair of independent clauses, there would be a comma before the “and.”

A comma is used before the closing quotation mark if a dialogue tag like “she said” is used, like the example on the left.

As in the picture below, a comma is necessary to break off a name when a person is addressed below.

Wow, we’ve learned a lot about commas today. Trouble is, there are about 100 other rules for them. Just another reason to have a good editor who knows the details!

Speaking of which, Gail Warner and I are working on my latest, A Most Handsome Gentleman. She’s removed dozens of commas that I put before the subordinating conjunction “as.” I need to practise more!

Yeah, I know. Preaching to the choir! Thanks for continuing to read, but how about those comments? There will be a draw for a prize at the end of the series!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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LfMM Suzan Lauder’s 100-Word Editing Checklist

I said in an earlier post that I’d share my list of words to search for if you want to un-muddy your writing to help you self-edit. (Lesson #2 and #3 at end of post). This list is a golden gem of mine that started after I read a book called Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair. I’ve used the ideas he suggested in the book and added many of my own to create a list of 100 words to search for to improve your writing.

“100 words?” you ask, “Isn’t that tedious?”

Yes it is. And if you don’t use these words, or get in the habit of it after having searched for the 100 a few times, your writing will shine. It’s worth tedium of a few rounds to get better as a writer. In addition, if you, like may authors, want to shave some word count off your novel, this review can often cut 5% of word count at first. Yes, my writing was 5% muddy before it ever got to an editor!

My over-used words at one point or another: that, look, act, then, such, all, as, about, turned, smile, scowl, however, in fact. What are yours?

But there’s more: I like to pare down adverbs to the minimum by rewording (including considering the adverb as the verb or adjective instead) or cutting, but I don’t believe in removing them totally, as they do have their purpose. A good rule of thumb is an average of no more than one -ly adverb per page of text. Adverbs like really, totally, only, and just can almost always be cut.

There are words I’ve taught myself to limit use, and the top of that list is another adverb: very. Most of the time, this adverb is your story begging for a better adjective. Very small: diminutive. Very old: antiquated. Very pretty: beautiful. Very late: tardy. Very lazy: lackadaisical. You get the idea. Get to be friends with a good thesaurus for better word use.

Some word formations can signal passive tone, such as a verb ending in –ed with to, or some –ing words, or had with another verb. Keep it active.

If you want to be a good POV (point of view) writer in third person deep point of view, you must get rid of “filter” words. More on that in a POV post, but I mention it because it’s on the cheat sheet.

If you’re like me, and write period fiction, you’ll also want to find words that were not in use during the period and exchange them for something more appropriate to the times. For example, the word “high-tech” is from the 1970’s, so you don’t want it in your Second World War story or older. Since I write Regency, I’ll have a post on Regency language later in the series.

How to use the checklist? In MS Word, there’s a function called “Find” on the “Home” tab. Type in the letters of the checklist item, then use the arrows in the pop-up box to go from one to the next. Evaluate each case, and if needed, reword, watching not to get into the rut of using another muddy style. You don’t have to change them all, just the ones that are easy to change. Soon, you’ll recognize your style and which words are never a problem for you.

After using the list a few times, you’re bound to customize the 100-word list for yourself, adding words your beta reader has indicated are over-used and crossing off those you have no issues with. These change from time to time, so be flexible with your checklist.

Suzan Lauder’s 100 word Editing Checklist

The applicable lessons to this post:

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

 

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

I hope a few of you share some words that would be on your list in the comments for this post. Enjoy your self-editing experiences!

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Please note the new widget on the right panel of my blog main page at the bottom. It takes you to my newest story posting for free at AHA, A Most Handsome Gentleman (formerly known as “Hot Collins”). It’s funny!

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