Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Anachronisms, anyone? -- writing tip

Questions: I hate to admit how stupid I must be, but someone in my writers group said I had "too many anachronisms." The dictionary -- "a person or t hing that is chronologically out of place, especially one from a former age..." didn't help. I don't write historicals OR time travel. Help?

Answer: In historicals it is easy to do. I once got into trouble with coin collectors who s were into sailing, when I gave a character in a story I sold to CHESAPEAKE BAY, a coin that wasn't minted until later.

But it can happen just as easily in modern stories. For instance how many cop shows still work to keep the person on the line long enough so t hey can trace the call? Come on? Can't the cops afford caller ID??

Or it can mean using a word that wasn't coined until later, as well. Okay, for instance was not in use until the late 1800s. Ken Kesey worked very hard in one of his novels to find the word "jacinth" which is what "orange" was called before the 1700s. The color existed, as did oranges, but the name for the color, and the gem stone it was derived from, was jacinth.

In a World War II novel, nobody can go on the Internet to contact someone, they will need a telephone. They can't punch buttons on the phone, or DIAL, becayse they will not hear a "dial tone" but someone saying, "Operator. Number please?" and getting through long-distance could take them hours. Though they can "rant" about the delay to friends, they can't do it on Facebook.

But it doesn't have to be a historical story. In writing, it can be anything that is out of place in the time of the story. A character who goes upstairs, when he woke up in the attic two paragraphs ago. A character who lights a cigarette, when he has just lit one and not yet put it out (unless that's the point).

This is very easy to do and often slips past editors and copy editors alike. One of my own early stories was set in San Francisco and had a character that jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge!!!

Once I was reading a historical romance set in Elizabethan England. Later, I realized that the feeling of ill-ease I had while reading was because the author had written it first as a modern story, then set it back in time, because the dialog was all modern English.

There was a wonderful wedding scene. It had whole roasted pigs, jongleurs (what the hell is a jongleur, anyway?), lute players and troubadours singing bawdy songs of wedded bliss. Wonderful jewel-encrusted costumes, too. Then a minor character praised the cheese served in the wedding "buffet," saying to the bride's father, "Where did you get this wonderful cheese?"

To which the bride's father replied, "Oh, I'm glad you like it, okay? We had it flown in special."

"Buffet" and "okay" would have been bad enough, as in Elizabethan times "buffet" was a cupboard not a selection of food and "okay" didn't come into use until the 19th century. But "flown in?" How?

1 comment:

  1. Having just got my first cell phone, I simply never thought in cell phone terms. In writing The Albemarle Affair I had people running to phone booths and so on until finally — in the very nick of time — I noticed that phone booths are practically extinct and at the same time I realized that these days even little kids run around with a cell phone glued to their little ears. Now that I'm a proud cell phone owner, I'm with it. (Finally).