By HILARY MANTEL - Wall Street Journal
Those of us who write about the far past, beyond living memory, beyond the reach of recording instruments, have harder problems to solve. How do you give the past a human voice without betraying it or making your reader furiously impatient? Too much period flavor, and you slow up the story. "Nay, damsel, be not afeared," may be authentic, but it will make your reader giggle. If you give way to an outbreak of "prithee" and "perchance," then perchance your reader will hurl the book across the room.
So should you go for modern idiom? If you do, it must be neutral, as nothing dates so fast as this year's slang. Yet neutral can seem flavorless. So what to do?
Relax, I think; accept that you will never be authentic. Recently I've been writing about the early Tudor period. We simply don't know how people conversed in that era. Our sources are mostly official: government records, legal documents. The private letters that have been preserved tend to have been kept because they were important: That is, they deal with formal matters. We simply don't know how servants talked between themselves or how the mass of illiterate men and women communicated.
Also, words have changed their meaning since the Tudor era. If I used them now as they were used then, I would confuse and frustrate the reader. The verb "let" for example, now means "permit"; to the Tudors it meant "forbid." What we call a clever man, they called a "witty" man.
Read the full story here.