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2015 A to Z Challenge: A is for ANACHRONISMS

A-ZChallenge2015Anachronisms

An anachronism is before its time – usually in a bad way. It’s a thing that belongs to a period other than the one in which it exists or is attribed to. Usually we think of anachronisms as being misplaced. We think the author hasn’t done their homework. Unless they have been placed there on purpose for comic effect.

The Flinstones, for example, brought twentieth century issues into the lives of a Stone Age family.

But anachronisms are not suitable for serious historical novels.

Not all anachronisms are obvious. I don’t think anyone would make the mistake of having a character switch on a light in the Middle Ages. But would you know not to put a xylophone in an orchestra before 1874?

Anachronisms are not only wrong as actual things before their time, but also in similes and metaphors. As Chuck Sambuchino writes: “A fierce windstorm in a novel set in ancient Rome should not sound like an onrushing train.”

This is one reason why research is essential. And editing.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

28 replies on “2015 A to Z Challenge: A is for ANACHRONISMS”

Oh yes, the A word 🙂 I run into that a lot. I once read a Roman-era novel where characters ate mashed potatoes. Oops… In my own writing I go back and weed out expressions that don’t belong. Since I also write in the Roman era, all references of pockets are out, for example. I also can’t have a character say “can it!” to another, since canning doesn’t exist yet… Devil’s in the details 🙂
Happy A to Z!

@TarkabarkaHolgy from
Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

Pockets – that’s interesting. I wonder where they kept their handkerchiefs. 🙂
Thanks for commenting and sorry your links disappeared. That’s because I had to move your comment to the correct post. (The comments button is at the top.)

This is so interesting! I’m a spec-fic writer, so it’s not something I think about often, but I wrote a vampire short story where my main character was human in Ireland in the 1600s. I had to stop and look up if glass windows had been invented yet while reading it back. I think I discovered that they hadn’t been yet and had to edit. lol

I’m so embarrassed at the anachronisms I had in my own writing when I was a lot younger. At least I can blame youth and the fact that I honestly didn’t know, or read too much and understood too little. For example, I didn’t realize sanitary napkins prior to 1972 at the earliest didn’t have adhesive strips. I knew about menstrual belts, but in my youthful naïveté, I couldn’t connect that to a lack of adhesives.

I still discover things every so often, but I try my hardest to double-check. A more recent example is when I discovered the words “sexist” and “sexism” aren’t as old as I’d assumed, and really only were coined and came into widespread use around 1968. I’ve had to change them to other expressions if a book is set before then.

I love that word. It’s also a good point made. It is so difficult placing a novel in the past. TV seems to have problems too. A recent showing of Poldark (I think it was Poldark) had a burglar alarm showing on a house.

This is why I don’t write historical fiction 😛 😛
I do read it now and then though.
Great post 🙂

Hi to a fellow traveler on the A to Z Challenge!
I sometimes get annoyed over modern language in a historical novel.

Catching up with your fascinating series, Miriam. Have been rather busy lately. I always get cross with anachronisms but sometimes it’s hard to avoid them and I daresay I unwittingly use them in my own writing. HF writers usually go to great pains to get the language right, for example. I remember in one of Philippa Gregory’s books, Henry VIII was described as costive – a word I had never heard – and not constipated. Presumably, the latter is too modern.

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