Monday, December 14, 2009

Be Not Afraid of Anachronisms

Literary Dictionary defines anachronism thusly:

The misplacing of any person, thing, custom, or event outside its proper historical time. Performances of Shakespeare's plays in modern dress use deliberate anachronism, but many fictional works based on history include unintentional examples, the most famous being the clock in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.


I've allowed fear to stop me from moving forward. Fear of being guilty of less than perfection. Professor X often quotes Voltaire to encourage me to get off my duff on something: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." But I am a sensitive little flower, fearful of being criticized for making a mistake in my writing. Any writing set in the past risks inaccuracy, and worse - anachronisms.

The pace of technology is so rapid, and we become so accustomed to new devices so quickly, that we lose sight of the fact that there was a time when they didn't exist. Still, I can roughly date some things by pegging them to my personal history. I first became aware of fax machines in college, when I was interning for a US Senator (no thongs were involved) and marveled at the magic of a phoneline photo transmission. When Super Son was an infant, one of the moms in play group introduced me to the miracle of the internet. Those aren't precise birthdates for the technology, but it's reasonable to believe my introductory experience timeline parallels that of most people.

Writing about a period before my birth, though, presents the need for some research. What were things like in 1880 in Vancouver? How about Washington, DC in 1921? Perhaps the trickiest is Vancouver in 1999. I've been afraid of readers pointing out minor anachronisms of a year or so.

But I find the cure for my literary paralysis lies in the oft-cited example of anachronism. If Shakespeare could do it and still inspire so many, why can't I? Those who don't like Shakespeare rarely cite his failure to avoid anachronism as the cause of their dislike.

And those who don't like Shakespeare aren't worthy of my regard anyway.

So, onward ho!


How can anyone resist Shakespeare with such delightful creatures performing his work?

4 comments:

lisleman said...

maybe I missed something or just forgot - but what are you writing? a book a play?

Rachel said...

I was at the Art Institute in Chicago with Kerri in 1997 and she was explaining digital photography to me and I just couldn't comprehend that we would be able to take pictures without film.

Fantastic Forrest said...

lisleman - I've been pretty closemouthed about it. It's a novel series involving time travel.

Rachel - of course you couldn't understand it. It is all based on magic. Technology is a mystery!! :)

Bee said...

Write your rough draft and let your friends see if they can catch any inaccuracies? I am the sort of reader who would never notice that sort of thing, my memory being poor. I would just be carried away by the plot and your wonderful writing voice, I'm sure.