Sounding Proper

I’m currently writing an historical novel, and since my first draft was just splattered onto the page as fast as the words came into my head, there’s now, of course, a lot of language-tweaking to be done.  I’ve decided to get rid of all contractions, as I feel they sound too modern.  But while this gives a much more old-timey sound to my writing, it is torture on the word-count.  You’re never really aware of how often you use contractions until you go to undo them; it’s like trying not to say “um,” and realizing that you say it after every third word.



I’m also replacing a lot of words with their more antiquated counterparts:

maybe = perhaps

very/really = quite

just = merely/simply

goes/comes back = returns

pregnant = with child

used to = accustomed to

want = wish (in some cases)

talk about = speak of

a lot = many/much

have to = must

think = believe (in some cases)

put up with = tolerate

keep on = continue

I actually enjoy doing this, because it’s like listening to my writing fade more fully into the past.  I know some people think that this type of writing sounds stilted and pompous, but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as someone from the eighteenth century saying, “Hey, what’s up?”

What other modern-to-historical changes do you make in your writing?  Leave a comment below!


  1. Those are great! I always struggle with sex-based words because it’s easy to wind up sounding either like a physician, or sounding too modern and slangy. Or just too cheesy.

  2. I like using period specific words like “huzzah” and “slattern” to give it a more authentic feel too. This is a good list though. Contractions are a dead giveaway.

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