Saturday, January 18, 2014

Avoiding Anachronisms in Historical Fiction

A helpful article by author Priscilla Royal. To quote:
Research into our chosen era is crucial. We need to understand how and why people thought the way they did. Some of that may feel so illogical or strange to us that we know readers will find it hard to sympathize with the characters we portray as positive. How to get around this? My answer is to remember the wisdom of my favorite grump, Ecclesiastes, who so famously wrote that there is no new thing under the sun.

In any modern period, people are inclined to believe that their era is wisest, full of fresh ideas, and better than any other. In fact, democracy in some form was present in Athens and even medieval monasteries. The confederation of the original twelve tribes of Israel, albeit under a king, resembles the beginning of the United States with the thirteen colonies. Are there differences? Yes, but there is a resonance.

The more original sources from the medieval era I read, the more I am struck by similarities between that era and many others, including this one. Western Europe may have been predominantly Christian, but it was also influenced by Islam in medicine, mathematics, language, and even spices. There were non-believers, gay people, powerful women, and Jews who were respected and accepted. The trap for historical fiction writers in recognizing this is giving their characters modern perceptions and rationales for the deviances from the conventional attitudes, also known as the era’s party line. What we cannot do is use our frame of reference and logic to present a point of view that proves the universality of human thought. (Read more.)

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