28 February 2018

Writing Historical Fiction: Avoiding Chronological Errors

First of all, what is a chronological error? Well, a chronological error or anachronism is defined as an error in time placement. For example, a sword is an anachronism in modern warfare, referencing the EU in a story set in Victorian times, or mentioning breeds of domesticated animals such as Rhodesian Ridgebacks during the reign of Alexander the Great as this dog breed was not established until the 19th century are all chronological errors. It is therefore advisable to do proper research to avoid such faux pas, some which could be considered unforgivable unless, of course, your novel includes time travel, alternate timelines, or violations of the prime directive. 

There are some excellent reasons to avoid these incongruities. The first is to maintain credibility, as they can break the verisimilitude of a story. While some readers may not notice the mistake, enough of them will, and at least one or two will point it out to the rest of the world that you got it wrong. Secondly, as an author, you should strive to be historically accurate. In the past, sometimes anachronisms were used in stories to make a point; today, however, historical realism is generally preferred. 

After covering several instances of historical errors, there's one you probably won’t be able to avoid, and that is the language anachronism. English speakers of the past used different vocabulary, unusual expressions (at least to our ears today), and slightly different grammar than English speakers of today. Most readers are willing to forgive this type of anachronism. However, do try to keep your writing true to the period. That means no modern slang,  references to current technology or acronyms commonly used in text messages, and on social networking sites, such as OMG, LOL, or KMN.

Which anachronisms do you find most annoying when reading historical fiction? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to add them in the comment section below!

Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added two historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty and The Country Girl Empress. When she isn't busy typing away on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookGoodreads and Google+.

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