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Hi, I am writing some scenes set in 1951 in a Paris nightclub. The dialogue is based on actual people (all now dead) but needs to reflect the period, the setting and the feel of the era. My problem is this : the club (Vieux Colombier) was full of ex-pats, American soldiers who had not returned home, jazz and other musicians, a mixture of people. How do I frame the dialogue where some of the characters use casually racist terms which, today, would be frowned on? For instance, the club was well know for mixed race dancing. In France the term then used for a black man (personne de race noire) translates as a negro or a black. It would be impossible for a character of that age to say : "Who is that tall, handsome man of colour over there?" From research, I have no doubt that the character would say (without any racial slur intended) "Who is that handsome negro over there?" Attitude and times have, thankfully, moved on but in staying true to the period I am not sure what to do. Any advice?


  • This is tricky one. I have a similar issue as I am writing a novel based in Alabama in the early sixties. After much thought I decided that to rewrite history to bring the language up to date would be totally wrong. After all, if the real people hadn't gone through that painful period we wouldn't be where we are today. I took the view that if there are those who want to deny the truth then that is their problem not mine. I am only a novelist not an apologist for the past.
    Don't know if that helps at all.
  • I agree with Noodlehendon. If you modernise the dialogue the story will sound phoney and just won't work.
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