Posted On May 25, 2016 by Print This Post

Now a Word from the Copy Editor . . . Nan Reinhardt

Copyeditor Nan Reinhardt gives us a new word of the day – and a reason to hope we never get to use it when writing our books!

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Anachronism—it’s a great word, isn’t it? I love words and this is one of my favorites because if you don’t already know it, you can’t even begin to guess the meaning. Am I right? And when someone uses it in a sentence, like “Kind of anachronistic, don’t you think?” you have to be right in the moment to get the meaning and even then, it might not be obvious. No, most of us don’t get this word from context and I confess, as a newbie copy editor, the first time I heard a project editor use the word, I had to look it up. I wasn’t going to be able to “watch for anachronisms” in the manuscript I was editing if I didn’t know what the devil an anachronism was.

So, Webster tells us an anachronism is “an error in chronology; a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other; a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place; especially one from a former age that is incongruous in the present; the state or condition of being chronologically out of place.”

Make sense? Try this, in a historical romance I once read, the setting was pre-Civil War Georgia and the heroine was having a ball to celebrate her engagement. A friend came to the plantation and admired the flowers—dozens and dozens of orchids—that the heroine had used to decorate the ballroom. The heroine said, “Aren’t they lovely? I had them flown in from Bermuda.” Okay . . . hmmmm. Interesting. First of all, who flew them in? In 1856, the only things flying were birds and hot air balloons, neither of which could have brought hundreds of orchids from Bermuda to Georgia. Anachronism! Maybe in 1956, she could’ve had orchids flown in to Georgia, although if she’d done some fact-checking she’d have discovered that orchids aren’t indigenous to Bermuda—they don’t grow well in the ground there, so even Bermudans have to import orchids if they want them or grow them in pots.

That’s a pretty drastic example. Most anachronisms that I come across in my fiction editing are much more subtle. For example, characters in 1820 who say things that no one in the era would have said. A father telling his young daughter to, “Pipe down!” when she’s being a little rowdy. Nope, that particular phrase wasn’t used until about 1900, so that would qualify as an anachronism. Or if your 1850s heroine whispers, “I’m going to come,” to the hero in a steamy sex scene. No . . . that term for orgasm wasn’t used until around 1942, and besides, a woman in the 1850s probably wouldn’t know what to say about that particular sensation. That doesn’t mean the scene can’t still be sexy as all get-out, but what she says might mean the difference between keeping your reader engaged and taking them right out of the moment.

And that, children, is the kiss of death to any story—when something seems so out of place that your reader stops in the middle of a scene to think about what just happened. Did your eighteen-year-old Regency-era heroine really just say, “Groovy”? Did your hot medieval hero just tell his men to “jettison their excess ammunition”? Surely you didn’t put your present-day heroine’s sixty-one-old mother in rolled down stockings, stumpy shoes, and a hairnet instead of a sundress, sandals, and a cute pixie haircut? No, I didn’t think so.

Get the picture? Do your research, keep your characters in the time period in which your story takes place. But know you might not find every single anachronism in your manuscript—that’s why it’s important to have a copy editor. After all, it’s okay when your copy editor stops mid-scene to scratch her head and exclaim, “seriously?!” It’s not okay when your readers do it.

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What’s the most outrageous anachronism you’ve ever read in a book?

Join us on Friday for Kayelle Allen!

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Bio: Nan Reinhardt has been a copyeditor and proofreader for over 25 years, and currently works on romantic fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.

Nan is also writer of romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after 45! Imagine! She is a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last 20 years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader.

But writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.

Visit Nan’s website at www.nanreinhardt.com, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors.

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Twitter: @NanReinhardt

Talk to Nan at: nan@nanreinhardt.com

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10 Responses to “Now a Word from the Copy Editor . . . Nan Reinhardt”

  1. Morning Nan!

    Oh boy, anachronism is a great word! Who knew? =)

    I know I’ve read several historicals where I’m pretty sure certain slang words weren’t invented yet, but never actually looked it up. Now I’m kind of inspired to do so…=)

    Thanks for another eye-opening post Nan!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | May 25, 2016, 9:37 am
  2. I read a book once that was set in the 1800s,shortly after the American Civil War (it ended in 1865), where a character referred to the Chicago race riots as indicative of ongoing tensions. Those riots were in 1919. A simple check could have told the author that she needed to use a different example.

    The timeline of history and historical events seems to drive most anachronisms. Heavens, in my own stories, because I write in series, I’m constantly having to recheck what I previously wrote so things don’t overlap that shouldn’t and research timelines for historical events I use in context (like the start of the 2nd Gulf War for a recent book). I’m sure I miss things.

    Posted by Anne Hagan | May 25, 2016, 12:49 pm
  3. Ah, a pet peeve of mine. My favorite anachronism was in a 16th century Scottish novel, where the heroine prepared instant oatmeal. Made me laugh right out loud!

    Great article.

    Posted by giffmacshane | May 25, 2016, 1:23 pm
  4. Hi Nan,

    Many years ago, I read a contest entry that made reference to the Picasso hanging over the mantel. The problem was the story took place during the Regency era and Picasso wasn’t born until 1881. Oops.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 25, 2016, 2:52 pm
  5. Thanks for coming by, Judith! It is so easy, you’re right!

    Posted by Nan Reinhardt | May 26, 2016, 11:46 am
  6. Oh, my, a big oops! It’s so easy to do, but also so important to check facts, even if we think we know the facts. Editors depend on their resources and references! Thanks for coming by, Jennifer!

    Posted by Nan Reinhardt | May 26, 2016, 11:50 am
  7. I am not all that observant, but I did catch my own use of “shower,” talking about a pre-wedding party. Problem was that I was a few years ahead of myself!

    Posted by Liz Flaherty | May 26, 2016, 9:39 pm

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