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Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 17, 2013 1:52 pm

Last week’s lesson was about anachronismsitems, people, speech, or behavior that are out of place in time. The main idea of that lesson was that writers should try diligently to avoid anachronisms, because they are errors in your writing that may cause readers to devalue it. Writers should research the time periods in her their pieces are set, so that everything from the clothing their characters wear to the words they speak is historically accurate.

However, contemporary literature and media are full of examples of intentional anachronism, and it can be great fun to introduce this into your writing. It’s especially common in works that feature time travel and in science fiction. In the lovely movie Somewhere in Time, when the protagonist discovers coins that are out of their time period, his journey to the past comes to an abrupt end. Objects out of time are a common problem in time travel stories, in fact.

You can also find deliberate anachronism in science fiction. The television series Firefly is set far in the future, but the characters dress in a sort of Old West garb. And steam punk is a genre that incorporates both technology and Victorian trappings.

Not all anachronism is science fiction-y, though. There may be times in which any writer will choose to intentionally employ an anachronism for creative effect. I’ve listed a few here, and you’ll get a chance to add your own to the list at the end of this lesson.

1. A character may speak or dress in an out-of-time manner intentionally as a quirk of personality. This could happen in a piece that is either serious or humorous. I’m thinking of examples like an eccentric aunt who dresses like a 1920s flapper, a teenage boy who tips his fedora, a character who speaks like someone from another era as an affectation. In Lisa O’Donnell’s book The Death of Bees (very dark and not for sensitive readers), the character of Nelly is a disturbed young teen in the present day who speaks as if she’s in a Jane Austen novel.

I wrote a piece (as Addie Pleasance) called Dougal Makes an Alliance in which I used intentional anachronisms of speech and behavior. Go ahead and pop over and give it a read—see if you can find what I did. (Judging by the comments, I did a poor job, as no one seemed to notice it. But perhaps now that I’ve called myself out, it will be more obvious).

The first hint that I was doing something other than a period piece set in some vague medieval Europe was at the end of the first section, where the prince responds to his parents by saying “Wait…what?” That’s a way that contemporary teens and twenty-somethings speak, and wouldn’t be expected of a medieval prince.

As the story proceeds, both the prince and his intended bride speak, think, and act more like contemporary teens than inhabitants of medieval Europe. There are more small glimpses into the minds of Dougal and Liyana, and then we get to Dougal’s final speech, which starts like this: “So . . . yeah. I’m not good at speeches. But this food looks awesome, right?”

So why did I do this? For a few reasons. First, I wanted to be humorous, and I also hoped that once Dougal acted out-of-time early in the story, readers would notice something awry and might read with a little bit more intention. Second (and this is more subtle), I hoped that the underlying message might be something like tradition isn’t always the best—sometimes it’s better to do things a new way, as evidenced by Dougal’s reaction to the feast (which might remind some readers of the parable of the wedding feast in Luke 14).

2. A writer might choose to update a Bible story by retelling it with modern characters or settings. This might serve several purposes: to reach a specific audience (children, perhaps, or the unsaved) or to help readers to look at familiar stories in a new light.

Biblical anachronism might be accomplished by keeping the ancient setting but having the people speak using contemporary language, complete with slang and idioms, or it might be done by having the familiar biblical people inhabit the present day, either with their own names or with updated, modern ones.

Be aware that when you fiddle with Bible stories, readers sometimes take offense. You must be sure that it doesn’t seem as if you’re mocking the story in any way, and that the reason you’ve chosen to introduce anachronism is clear.

There are many examples in the Writing Challenge of deliberate biblical anachronism, and I hope that some WC contributors will link to them in responses to this post.

HOMEWORK (do any of these that you wish):

1. Ask a question or make a comment about deliberate anachronism.
2. Give another example, either from your own writing, or from literature or media. A link would be dandy, if you’ve got one.
3. Give another reason why a writer might choose to use intentional anachronism.
4. Are you comfortable with biblical anachronism? Why or why not?
5. Write a paragraph with an intentional anachronism, and tell why you think it’s effective there.


Please tell others about this writing forum! I'd love your suggestions for improving these lessons. Different topics? Easier topics? More advanced topics? Anything else you'd like to say, in general, about this forum?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby Allison » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:24 pm

Oh, I must admit, I do enjoy intentional anachronism. In fact, I have a whole series of skits that use this. I have my "Roaming Biblical Reporter," Eli. He's made a number of appearances that take the form of a modern day news broadcast, but he's interviewing a Biblical figure (or two). I've found that, interestingly enough, most of my pieces that use intentional anachronism are skits or plays. I'm really not sure why. I'll give a few examples, and I'll try to find one that's NOT a skit too.

Eli, the Roaming Biblical Reporter and his female counterpart (used for a skit for a women's event at my church), Eliza
Confessions of an Ex-Pirate -- Jan does point out on this one that my Pirate language might not be totally "on." But that aside...
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Skit form, but not with Eli:
Impossible Tasks It's a uh... staff meeting... *ducks*

Narrative form:
Anna's List *disclaimer* I did something with this one that is generally not recommended. But I don't want to say what here because it might give something away. I'll mention it in another post.

Even though I never really thought of it this way, my Best of the Best (BoB) winner from 2012 would be considered intentional anachronism, I'd think.
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Biblical fiction is actually a genre I really enjoy, but as Jan mentioned, you have to be very careful with it, and I fear I'm not always as careful as I should be. I've actually been writing less Biblical fiction lately because of that. I can think of two in particular that I've written that I wish would just disappear, actually, but for opposite reasons. One I took too FEW liberties with and ended up just telling the story pretty much exactly as every knows it. The other I took too MANY liberties and it ended up not being true to the Biblical story. So yes, exercise caution with Biblical fiction.

And now I have a question for Jan. Would doing a modern take of a fairy tale be considered intentional anachronism also?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby glorybee » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:35 pm

Allison, thanks for sharing these! I was sure I remembered that this was a kind of writing that you enjoy, and I'm glad that you've posted these here for us.

I think that updated fairy tales might be considered a sort of anachronism, since most of them are set (like my linked piece, above) in some unspecified "once upon a time" and we associate them with princesses with pointy hats and men in tights.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby JayDavidKing » Wed Nov 20, 2013 1:34 am

Sorry I'm late with this response. This was one I didn't want to miss because I enjoy writing in this style.
I wrote one about about biblical characters using a laptop computer to get battle plans. I'm assuming that would qualify as intentional... right?
Joshua Fit the Battle
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=41021
The only reason I wrote this one was because I wanted to see if I could write a Bible character story with a topic that was totally contemporary... "Search Engine".

Another entry was an attempt at dry humor. All I did was give Moses a very modern speech pattern. I don't know if I did it correctly but at least it got a few smiles (based on reader's comments.)
Moses Masters the Mountain
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=28374

My question about both entries is about the challenge. Both entries got good comments but neither did well in the ratings. Is that something that is expected with this type of writing? Is it a less than favorable choice of writing styles for challenge entries?

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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby glorybee » Wed Nov 20, 2013 9:26 am

JayDavidKing wrote:Sorry I'm late with this response. This was one I didn't want to miss because I enjoy writing in this style.
I wrote one about about biblical characters using a laptop computer to get battle plans. I'm assuming that would qualify as intentional... right?
Joshua Fit the Battle
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=41021
The only reason I wrote this one was because I wanted to see if I could write a Bible character story with a topic that was totally contemporary... "Search Engine".

Another entry was an attempt at dry humor. All I did was give Moses a very modern speech pattern. I don't know if I did it correctly but at least it got a few smiles (based on reader's comments.)
Moses Masters the Mountain
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=28374

My question about both entries is about the challenge. Both entries got good comments but neither did well in the ratings. Is that something that is expected with this type of writing? Is it a less than favorable choice of writing styles for challenge entries?


Jay, I just read both of these--lots of fun, to be sure.

I'm afraid that I can't really answer your last question, though. There are just so many factors that enter into the judging on any given week. I see that the first one you linked to did well in its level, but not well enough to get an award. Perhaps there were simply other entries that week that worked better with the judges, or perhaps you did well in "creativity" but not as well in some of the other judging criteria.

I know most of the people who act as judges, and I don't think that any of them would be fussy about biblical anachronism.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby violin4jesus » Sat Nov 23, 2013 11:33 am

I've read some good Biblical fiction, and I've read some bad. One does need to be really careful when writing it, that's for sure.

One of my best attempts was If Jesus Were Born Today..., which you featured on the front page at one point, so I know you like it. :wink: That one was also really fun to write.

The only other one I've done is Anointed, in which it's only the language that's out of time.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby glorybee » Sat Nov 23, 2013 12:36 pm

Leah, thanks for sharing these! Very clever, and I can't imagine that anyone would take offense.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby RachelM » Mon Nov 25, 2013 2:10 am

Thank you for this lesson, Jan! I've never thought about using anachronism intentionally, but now that you've pointed it out, I can see how it can be used effectively.

I think I'm going to try some biblical anachronism. I definitely see the need to be careful in that area. I can also see how it can be used to make characters more memorable and interesting.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--INTENTIONAL ANACHRONISM

Postby Allison » Sun Jan 12, 2014 10:02 pm

I just realized that I said I would post what I did wrong in "Anna's List" (a story I linked to in my first post) and I never did. So here goes.

In Anna's List, I put words in Jesus' mouth. And while I don't think that I had Jesus saying anything UN-Biblical, in general, it's just not a good idea to ever mess with or add to Jesus' words. Can you put it into modern language? Sure. We all do that, and even certain Bible translations/interpretations, such as "The Message" do that. Just be careful when you do this that you keep the original intent. It is certainly best, however not to add to Jesus' words or add a story that is not in the Bible.
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