The Perils of Writing Historical Fiction
Steering clear of anachronisms is a pretty big deal to those of us writing historical fiction. We are constantly battliTng how to stay true to a particular time period despite writing to a modern audience. Word usage and character traits are two of the biggest red flags when writing historical fiction, i.e., which words are considered acceptable and which ones are not, and is a character thinking and behaving in a way that reflects the world they inhabit. For example, you wouldn’t have a character in the 1600s utter the word ‘Gadzooks!” and then cruise Main Street on their horse trying to pick up chicks. ;)
Here is the definition of Anachronism according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): Anything done or existing out of date; hence, anything which was proper to a former age, but is, or, if it existed, would be, out of harmony with the present; also called a practical anachronism. Also transf. of persons. Circa 1646
Avelynn is set in the year 869. Since writing in Old English would make the story inaccessible to a modern reader, I chose to broker a compromise. For Avelynn, I constantly consulted the OED and deemed any word in usage before the 1700s to be acceptable and fair game. In some wild and unprecedented cases, a word not used until the 1800s was more appropriate, and I threw caution to the wind and penned it.
Style of writing is another consideration. Some authors believe historical fiction should not have any contractions in the prose—no ‘didn’t’, ‘shouldn’t’, or ‘can’t’. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but personally, to my ears, had I written Avelynn that way, the narrative would have felt stuffy and pedantic. However, in saying that, I chose to make Alrik’s dialogue void of contractions. I did this to reflect the difference in language from Norse to English. I wanted his dialogue to be unique and strong (just like him :).
Another difficulty with writing historical fiction is putting strong heroines in eras and times long gone by. With Avelynn, I picked a time when women still had some power—a time when a tenacious, spitfire of a character might just fit in. Anglo-Saxon England presented me with just such a time and place. Before the Norman Conquest, women had some control and influence in their communities. They could rule kingdoms; fight at the head of armies, leading their men into battle; they could ignore their powerful fathers’ wishes and elope; they could dispute a marriage at Council and win a divorce; they could hold land and chattel and bequeath their possessions to their children; and the bride-price, a dowry of sorts, was theirs and theirs alone, no one could take it away from them. Their political sway and power was waning with the passage of time and the rise of the Catholic Church, but even the church provided some support, advocating for women’s fair treatment in marriage and divorce laws.
I spent six months alone just researching the period before I put a single word onto the page, and the research continued right up until I wrote ‘The End.’
Even the pagan elements of Avelynn’s faith were not entered into lightly. While England was predominantly Christian amongst the clergy and nobility, the peasants were another matter entirely. Charms and spells were uttered over fields using pagan language, and relief from sickness and disease was as much a placebo of faith in the leech’s ability to banish demons as from his knowledge of herbs and tonics. In a world where elf shots caused disease and witches uttered hexes and curses, magic was still very much alive and well in Anglo-Saxon England, and Avelynn was eager to play her part in all that.
I endeavoured to make Avelynn fun and accessible, giving readers a strong sense of the period and a story that resonates long after their eyes linger across the final page. I hope readers enjoy the trip in to the dark ages!
Thank you, Marissa. Hope everyone enjoyed...