Keep blunders out of your books.
Medieval Underpants by Susanne Alleyn addresses the most common anachronisms and other mistakes in historical fiction, while providing an entertaining read for the even the non-historical buff.
Anachronisms: the bane of historical fiction
As an editor, anachronisms are one of my biggest pet peeves. The author’s job is to create an immersive setting, but so often single a glaring mistake will rip the reader out of the experience. While most writers wouldn’t have their knight in shining armor whipping out their cell phones to check up on their damsels, there are plenty, less obvious, mistakes that are just as ridiculous littering the pages of period novels. Alleyn takes us through the worst offenders in this order: (her table of contents)
General Rule No. 1:Never Assume
- Let’s Start With the Underpants
- Anachronisms In Locations: Getting the Geography (& the Street Names) Right
- Anachronisms & Bloopers in Dialogue, Expressions, & Slang
- Anachronisms Of Attitude: Misplaced Political Correctness, Informality, & Feisty Females General Rule
General Rule No. 2: Wikipedia Is Your Friend
- Anachronisms: Food, Plants, & Animals
- Anachronisms: What’s In a Name?
- Anachronisms: Guns General Rule No.
General Rule No. 3: Do Not Borrow Your Period Details & Information From Other People’s Historical Novels & Movies
- Money Bloopers: Getting the Coinage, Prices, & Values Right
- Bloopers: English Aristocratic & Royal Titles
- Bloopers: Lights Out!
- Bloopers: A Quick Chapter on Slooooow Travel
General Rule No. 4: Don’t Just Swallow the Propaganda, Clichés, & Myths
- Myths: Hygiene, Cleanliness, & More
- More Anachronisms Of Attitude: Servants—Not a Luxury, a Necessity
- Bloopers: Guillotines & the Obligatory Heart-Wrenching French Revolution Execution Scene
- A Grab Bag of Brief Oddments
- And Finally, the End: Death & Burial
- Bibliography & Research: Further Reading
Alleyn covers each of these topics thoroughly and then (my favorite part of the book) she substantiates all her claims with references to source material. If you are using the digital version of the book, these references are linked to their respective webpages making deeper study of the topic quick and simple. She reminds the reader throughout the book to favor primary source material in all their research and to never ever use another fictional work as a historical reference. (Lest you copy their mistakes into your own work!)
While this might seem persnickety to the casual author, Alleyn reminds us that readers of historical fiction love history and will notice sloppy research.
Any writer of historical romance will appreciate the extensive explanation of the intricacies of the English aristocratic titles. She not only explains the conventions of what each means, she explains how titles can change and how titles work in special circumstances. Since this is one of the most common blunders in historical fiction, this alone makes the book a worth its purchase price.
While the book’s content is already strong, Alleyn doubles down by providing a truly jaw dropping bibliography in the final section of the book. These references are organized by topic as to be more useful to the reader and all are hyperlinked. For this reason, I recommend anyone purchasing this book do so in the digital form. Even if you prefer your reference manuals in print (as I do) the hyperlinked bibliography will more than make up for the inconvenience of digital.
Not just a dry reference
Although much of this material is technical, the writing is engaging and humorous enough that even a non-author would find it entertaining. I found myself laughing throughout the book and would even recommend it to friends who enjoy historical fiction as they would have undoubtedly encountered many of these errors in their own reading.
Informative, covers a large number of topics in several categories
Research-based information. Alleyn warns readers to never assume and she doesn’t either.
Engaging, entertaining writing-style
Authors of Historical fiction need to get their facts right. This book will not only help authors keep the worst mistakes out of their manuscripts, it also provides a thorough reference list for further research. Anyone who writes historical fiction should have a copy of Medieval Underpants.
Medieval Underpants is available here: (affiliate link)
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