Using real life terms/currency/etc. in a fictional setting?


So the setting of my current series is heavily influenced by 19th century London, but it’s completely fictional with made up countries and cities. So my question is, with a fictional setting like this, would it make sense to reference historical styles/decor? For instance, I describe a couch as being in the Elizabethan style because that’s what that particular style is called in real life. But now it’s dawning on me that naming an actual historical figure in a fictional world might not make sense. Should I avoid this completely and just stick to describing what things looks like instead? Or does this not really matter that much?


I’d say not, if your world doesn’t have the same history as ours. And describing it would give a clearer image to people who don’t have a reference for an Elizabethan style couch, anyway. :slight_smile:


This is a great question. It’s something similar to what has come up about using modern or archaic terms in Fantasy.

I’m unsure of the answer and would also like to see what others say.

But, I’m going to say now that I suppose it has to do with POV and voice.

If we understand from the work that an omniscient narrator is telling us about the story in our language (the language the book is written in) then saying “Elizabethan” makes sense, because that’s just what the narrator and reader would know it as.

However, if the voice of the story is something with a closer narrative distance, if it’s immersive, then it makes more sense that the terms used are that of a POV character in that world or at least closer to what they would use (if there’s an understood narrator recording the scene in the third person.) Would a person in that world say “Victorian” or “Tang Dynasty” or something like that?


Good points! You thought about it much deeper than I did. Though I’d probably say to still avoid it even if you were doing an omniscient narrator, just because if the world has never had an Elizabethan era, describing anything as ‘Elizabethan style’ would almost feel like undermining this world’s history to me. Unless it was a very self-aware narrator comparing the two couches, something like: “The couch was worn but ornately decorated, faded velvet clashing with the intricate arabesque pattern wrapping around its wooden legs. Were you or I to look at it, we might have described is as Elizabethan style, though of course, main character new it as only as Sophien.” (I’m not quite sure if this is Elizabethan style or not. :P)


Thank you @LadyofthePond and @KaranSeraph ! You both bring up great points, and I think I’m definitely going to stick to general descriptions. I’ve steeped myself in so much Victorian history that it can be tough to think of these little points, but now I’m more aware of it. Thankfully it was only two or three short mentions (needed to change Leyden jar, too), but I’m glad to get input.


Oh, another sort of historical bit: currency. I’ve been using shillings and pounds based on the value of money in the 19th century, but maybe I should come up with new terms for these? I’d keep the same value (for my own sanity), but maybe different names?


LOL this is why the question gets argued at times, because at some point the amount of invented terms needed actually distracts from readbility, depending on the density of invented terms in a text. I know in my Alternate History work a lot of comments from readers of the first chapter complained about the amount of invented terms.


Yeah, it can drive you insane. And I mean, I really only set the story in a fictional world because I decided to combine elements from different decades in the 19th century (and even a little from the 18th). I want there to still be a familiarity to it, so too many invented terms could work against that goal for me. Kind of like in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It was a completely fictional world, but it felt familiar.


This is something I struggle with in Sci-Fi a lot. I like a lot of the points already made here, but I think it’s also important to add that this is something where sometimes you need to find a balance/use common sense. There’s only so far you can go with these things. You can’t make up a new word for everything, after all. I had someone tell me I shouldn’t be using “TV” or “radio” or things along those lines (I don’t remember the exact nit-pick), but the reality is, if I described a TV but called it something different it would just be annoying to the reader.

I think fashion and style is a different case. Because not all of your readers will know what you mean by something Elizabethan styled I agree with @LadyofthePond that it’s worth describing.

There’s a balance. There’s always a balance.


I agree, I think balance is the key. I’m going to forgo things like “Elizabethan” but keep the currency (I like the way British money sounds).

That is a tad nitpicky with the appliances. I think it’s good to be open to suggestions, but sometimes you just gotta go with your gut.