Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

More about anachronisms and the use of ‘literary license’

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I really like the term “literary license.” It sounds so official, as though I as a fiction writer have been approved to use words that’ll even kill — thinking about James Bond and his OO7 license, of course.

All “literary license” means, of course, is the wonderful freedom I have to tell likes and disguise them as stories. As a kid, I was appropriately shamed and shocked about telling lies. It was only as an adult that it dawned on me — all those novels I read as a kid were filled with lies. I could lie if I want to, all I had to do was put my lies together into a good story.

I’m still struggling with the story part, but I really have it down now: I can tell lies if I write fiction.

But then there are anachronisms. You remember my discussion of those a few days ago, right? Those uses of facts, figures, people, or events out of sequence — like the 1954 deli named after a 1957-58 automobile? Sure, you can choose to do that in a story. You might do it intentionally, as a tongue-in-cheek plot device on which to build the whole story. Mark Twain’s classic, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” is one giant anachronism. A lot of fantasy and science fiction is built on intentional anachronisms in the plot.

However, letting an anachronism slip past you in a situation where you’re trying for realism stands out like a Chrysler 300 accessory grille on a 1955 Plymouth Savoy. (You probably couldn’t get a Chrysler 300 grille to fit onto a 1955 Plymouth Savoy, but that’s another matter.) Such anachronisms simply glare out at your readers and spoil the whole story.

So what’s my point? Use an anachronism as a gag, something to liven up your basic story, something so obviously anachronistic you can have fun with it. But beware, anachronisms in your story by accident can be killers that distract from your sense of realism and ruin your work.
[tags]anachronisms, literary license, writing tips at garyspeer.com[/tags]

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