Choosing the right words always challenges writers, but when you’re writing historical fiction, that challenge doubles or triples.
When I wrote The Feedsack Dress, I relied heavily on childhood memories in writing the dialogue. The patterns and sounds of speech change slowly, and I didn’t doubt that I could capture what people said and the way they said it in 1949.
What I worried about was specific vocabulary. When did slang terms enter the language? Some of these I could track down through the dictionary or books on slang. I also asked people who remembered the mid 20th century much better than I did. My older sister gave me a plot point and a term: slam book. It was also the only term the publisher questioned.
Another aspect is figuring out what people were talking about. For 1949, that included such things as fashions, books, news headlines, and radio shows. I wrote my first draft in pre-computer days, so I went to magazines and newspapers for answers to many of these questions. When I did the final revision, I used the computer to find a major news story that students would have been discussing at a key point in the story.
Does finding the timely word matter? I certainly think the language, particularly in dialogue, is a major part of what transports us back in time. As a reader, I expect the words to give the feel of the period. As a writer, I demand it.