Anachronisms are what?

Anachronisms in historical fiction are things that don’t belong in the period in question. The BBC always gets letters from viewers who spot some detail in a costume drama that is out of place. Often they are physical, such as an item of clothing or an object. Some people make a fuss over the most trivial and inconsequential errors. Railway buffs and experts on militaria are among the keenest observers.

Anachronisms can be verbal

Words and phrases have a history as much as clothing and locomotives. I sometimes cringe at Americanisms or other modern expressions used out of time. Writers also need to be careful about usage. A word might have existed in the past but a certain application of it may be too modern, Some in the eighteenth century would have known all the words in the phrase ‘Being economical with the truth’ but would never have used them in that order with the meaning now familiar to us.

Why are anachronisms hard to avoid?

Surely, these days, it is easy enough to do research on most aspects of life in the past to avoid the sort of clangers that resound to audiences or readers?  I do try and I expect others do too. There are two types of anachronism that we cannot really avoid. Firstly, we need to realise that in the past, as today, some people were avant garde whilst others downright old-fashioned, even if most fell somewhere in the middle. It would therefore be unauthentic to have everyone in a story conforming to some textbook ideas of contemporary culture. Equally, there are words and expressions that have gone out of use. I want my work to be authentic but accessible. Let me know if you think I succeed.

Intangible anachronisms exist too

Physical and verbal anachronisms are relatively straightforward to spot when editing or proofreading your work – or someone else’s. It is far harder to deal with social and cultural changes. People in the past often had very different values and concepts from today. In the Middle Ages scientific knowledge was less common and less valued than today. Attitudes to religion, superstition, authority, women, minorities and more have changed a lot over the years. Such issues can draw writers into culture wars as I have commented.

Do intangible anachronisms matter?

If I made all my characters typical of their time, readers would not relate to them, but I don’t want them to seem to modern in their outlook either. Whilst I want to do justice to history and let readers gain some insight into earlier culture, I want my work to be accessible and my characters to be relatable. Therefore, I tend to give them such modern values and ideas as I can, at the same time as bringing in some antiquated ideas where appropriate. It is as much a balancing act as using the right amount of oldfashioned language. I would like to know whether you think I have succeeded. In Highwaypersons Book II, The King’s Justice, I dealt with several issues that should resonate today, such as race, justice and women’s role. I hope my characters’ attitudes were credible as well as relatable. What do you think?

The cover of The King's Justice. Were there anachronisms here?

Were there anachronisms here?