Sunday, August 22, 2010

Resources for Writers #32: Keep It Real

1.  something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, esp. a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time: The sword is an anachronism in modern warfare.
  2.  an error in chronology in which a person, object, event, etc., is assigned a date or period other than the correct one: To assign Michelangelo to the 14th century is an anachronism.

If you're writing a story about the future, you can say anything. Make up stuff. Invent words. Create characters that would never fit in the 21st century or in previous ones. What a great writing adventure! 
BUT--say anything except the truth in a story about the present and/or past, and you're in trouble. Especially the past. Don't invent anything, at least not anything that doesn't somehow 'fit' with the time period. Make sure your characters speak and appear as they would have 'back when'. The adventure is in the research!
What brought all this to mind was picking up one of those booklet-type birthday cards from 1944--which just happens to be when I was born. If I were writing a story that took place in this particular year, adding a few facts would lend credibility to the setting, plot, and characters. For example:
  • FDR was in his third term as President of the United States
  • We were still at war, and ads for almost everything spoke to that situation. For example, Westinghouse ran an ad promising new features in the appliances that they would be allowed to produce AFTER the war. Consumers were cautioned that "Food fights for freedom". And Elsie the Cow (of Borden Milk fame) lectured Elmer the Bull about not buying anything he didn't actually need: "Use it up--wear it out--make it do--or do without!"
  • The average income was $2,378.00 a year.
  • A new house could be had for $3,475.00 IF you could get the materials and people to construct it.
  • Bacon was 45 cents/lb. and eggs 21 cents/doz. Meat rationing ended in the United States.
  • Doctors still made house calls.
  • "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • People listened to Dinah Shore sing, "I'll Walk Alone" and to the Andrews Sisters belting out, "Shoo Shoo Baby".
  • Christmas and New Year's fell on Monday.
  • V-1 rockets pounded London.
  • Big Bend National Park was established.
  • Seventeen Magazine hit the newsstands.
 All of these items could be worked into a story, making it even more realistic, especially for readers who could say, "Been there, done that." I love to read vintage stories set in a time in which I remember living. But make a mistake, and I'll know it, and so will a lot of other readers out there. 

I still remember the humiliation of sitting in a graduate English class and being asked by the professor to point out the anachronism in the passage we'd just read--and I couldn't do it. I could've crawled under the conference table! That experience spurs me to research the truth of anything I write as fact...because I'm just too darned old to crawl under the table any more!


K9friend said...

Readers are sharp...and we must never forget it!


Donna B said...

LOL You're never to old to crawl under the table (or make mistakes) - or at least roll under the table...

Love the post!