by Tracy Barrett
You might think that writers of historical fiction don’t have to worry about relevance. Not so! We do, however, have a different set of problems in this area than do authors of contemporary fiction.
Unlike writers of contemporary fiction, we have the luxury of not worrying about whether our use of slang will be dated by the time the book is out. But we still have to be concerned that perfectly normal (for its day) slang used by our characters will sound weird to our readers, removing them from the world we’ve so carefully constructed.
Actually, by removing the reader from the world she’s familiar with (removal to a different era, a different place, a fantasy world, a science-fiction setting), the relevance of the story to the reader’s life can actually be enhanced. Since the trappings of daily life in our created world are different from what the reader knows, they become less relevant, and the universals stand out.
It’s a cliché that people are the same everywhere. That might be true (some clichés are, after all!), but all societies aren’t all the same. Expectations, customs, habits, beliefs—humans have come up with endless varieties.
*For example, if you say that in 1492, people had known for 2,000 years that the world was round, and that they even had a very good idea of its size, some readers will dredge up elementary-school memories of Christopher Columbus and think you don’t know what you’re talking about.