Monday, January 11, 2016

Anachronism vis a vis Misappropriation

Some chatter lately on the Historical Fiction Face Book page about concerns of 'avoiding anachronisms'.  Should writers avoid anachronisms?  Having spent a great deal of my career in organizational consulting, I would respond in a typical consultant response:  "It all depends."

What are you writing, and who are you writing for?  Are you writing a screen play for 'Back to the Future", or are you Mark Twain writing about a 'Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court'?  Then by all means go for the anachronism, it is the crux of the story.

If you are writing a well researched historical novel, and you want to be respectful to the period and the culture of the story, a misplaced object or phrase of dialog that is inappropriate to the time, will likely lose the readership of a serious reader of historical fiction.  And if the anachronism is foisted on an actual historical figure, then the 'insult' is doubled as a misappropriated piece of information.  Many historical fiction writers stay true to the history they have researched by introducing fiction about  characters that lived and wee impacted during the time of the story.  Even then, for the benefit of the reader, the story is told in modern terms with perhaps an occasional dialog phrase in the idiom of the period.

This has been a particular challenge in my current WIP book at several levels.  First, it deals with historical events that have not been broadly documented. (Irish slaves in the Caribbean in the 17th century, and the political turmoil during the English Civil War and the rise of the Roundheads, and how that spilled over to Barbados)  Second, the clash of culture and language during the European colonialism in the Americas. (Irish, English, Spanish, Dutch, French Huguenots, African, and Choctaw, Creek and Seminole).  Then there is the evolving technology, politics and economics of the times. (The very meaning of the word 'plantation' before it came to mean a 'place'.  In the 1600's it was a political and economic strategy  where investors in the war effort were rewarded with confiscated land and that land was 'planted' with foreigners to do the labor of making it profitable to the 'adventurer' [a term for the investor].  Also, the changing money crops in the Caribbean:  from indigo to cotton to sugar, all involving slaves.)  Also, I had written of mules pulling the wagons on the plantations, but learning through drilling into research that mules were not introduced until the next century.  So all my mules were replaced with Dutch draft horses.

So, if you are a serious writer of historical fiction and want to avoid anachronism and misappropriation, love your topic, do your homework, don't insult the culture, and (Avoid periods of European Colonialism!)