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As far as my motivation in writing goes, I have long been frustrated about historical fiction I’ve read where the main character is basically an American dressed up in a cloak and armor.

The Caryatid: A Work of Hysterical Fiction is an intended parody that reverses this habit and is set here and now with a character internally from another century. The humor, besides silly name-dropping of brands, consists in historical misportrayals of today (for instance, an aged fleet of personal transportation drones above new streetcars sparking overhead), and is based on bad historical fiction, and bad history, that I have read.

How can I cue the reader to see the intended pretentious narrator bloopers, for instance that the first of two divergent descriptions of an Apple Watch as having “a small, circular face” represent bloopers on the part of an incompetent fictional narrator?

--UPDATE--

I am editing the story and it may be very different if you are reading this. For archival purposes, here is the text:

Oct 7, 2020. Anytown, USA. Anna looked at her Apple Watch, a watch with a small, circular face that wore lightly on her wrist. Then, not long after, she looked at her iPhone, totally absorbed as she spent deliberate time on each social network: first Facebook, then Twitter, then Amazon. It was the last that offered the richest social interaction.

She put the iPhone in her pocket and walked, slowly, down the same path she walked each day. What time was it? The ninth hour? No, that was long past. She looked in the sky. She walked in the rhythm of the day, as each day, each week, each year was a sacred rhythm and each room its own place: organizing icons by date would never had occurred to people.

Everyone sat or stood in an odd, contorted position that gave Anna no end of puzzlement. Her octagonal circle of an Apple Watch, whose band was constantly shifting in color, kept her mesmerized. She puzzled that the boys had made such a big deal over seeing a Ford Ferrari; she certainly didn’t believe that a flimsy mask was any reason not to give someone a snuggle.

She moved without causing a bird alarm, and was perennially astonished, less that others moved in a way that caused a bird alarm, but that not one head turned when there was a bird alarm. Sometimes she even wondered if the others did not even have a concept of what a bird alarm was.

Things had certainly gotten more complicated with time. The road had for ages been shared between pedestrian man and horse. Now, decades after automobiles had taken root, it had to be shared between man, horse, and car. Aged drones carried humans across established routes, and new trolleys sparked against wires overhead. At least bikes had their own lane in which to thunder.

Yet she viewed things differently. Her understanding was entirely concrete, or at least dressed in the concrete. It was a capital intellectual day when she heard answered the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”, a question which involved whether angels have bodies that exclude the presence of other bodies, or whether multiple angels could be present in the same space—with the consequence that an infinite, and not only a finite, number of angels could dance on the head of a pin. But nobody could understand this. Infidel! How many postmoderns can dunce on a pinhead?

The quest of angels was a beautiful image. She lived in a world where the saints were more real than those walking, and in which as a child she had seen her guardian angel. She lived in a world where an icon was a “window of heaven” and an open window at that. And she lived in a world that, though she only attended church a few times per year, a great towering presence hid behind that figure.

She had been gathering herbs in a field, and had gone some distance afar, though near a 7-11.

“How to get home?” she thought. She had gathered a lot.

Then she reached into her pocket, pulled out her iPhone Pro, pulled up the Uber app, and ordered a shared ride.

--ADDITIONAL UPDATE--

I have revised my story as follows:

From Falstaff to Herodotus, grace: I send your excellence my manuscript, as revised again, and have returned the Imaginarium. I have tried to envision what life was really like in The Setting, but yet also keep things contemporary. Please send my boots and cloak by my nephew.

Here is the story:

Oct 8, 2020, Anytown, USA.

Anna looked at the sky. The position of the sun showed that it was the ninth hour, and from the clouds it looked like about four or five hours until there would be a light rain.

She stood reverently and attentively, pulled out her iPhone, and used a pirated Internet Explorer 6 app to spend deliberate time on social networks: first Facebook, then Twitter, then Amazon. It was the last that offered the richest social interaction.

Technology in that society underscored the sacred and interlocking rhythm and time, with its cycles of lifetime, year, month, and day, right down to the single short hour. But there was a lot of technology, and it had changed things. The road had for ages been shared between pedestrian man and horse. Now, decades after automobiles had taken root, it had to be shared between man, horse, and motorcar. A shiny, dark Ford Ferrari raced by her on the sidewalk. She paused to contemplate its beauty. Then she listened, entranced, as a poor street musician played sad, sad music on a Honda Accordion.

And in all this she was human. Neither her lord nor she knew how many winters each had passed when they married; neither she nor her lord for that matter knew that it was the twentieth century. She cared for birth and mirth, and she loved her little ones. She did not know how many winters old they were, either. And there was life within her.

And she was intensely religious, and intensely superstitious, so far as to be almost entirely tacit. She knew the stories of the saints, and attended church a few times a year. She lived long under religion’s shadow. And her mind was tranquil, unhurried, unworried, and this without the slightest effort to learn Antarctican Mindfulness.

And in all this, she was content. Her family had lived on the same sandlot; more than seven generations had been born, lived, and died without traveling twenty miles from this root. The stones and herbs were family to her as much as men, but this was, again, tacit.

She was human. Really and truly human, no matter what others thought the epoch was.

Then a crow crowed. She looked around, thoughtfully. It was well nigh time to visit her sister.

But how to get there?” she thought, and then, “I have walked in the opposite direction, and she will be upset if I am even two or three hours late.”

Then a solution occurred to her. She reached into her pocket, pulled out her new iPhone Pro, pulled up the Uber app, and ordered a shared ride.

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  • Are you essentially asking: "If I'm making a cursory joke, how to make sure the reader won't miss it?"
    – Alexander
    Oct 7 '20 at 17:28
  • This is a good question, but the title doesn't really nail the problem. After all, your parody is not really supposed to be realistic, is it? More like the opposite.
    – Llewellyn
    Oct 7 '20 at 18:15
  • The title has unintended ambiguity. You (legitimately) read the title as asking how to make a story more realistic; I intended "real" to more or less mean "real to the reader," so that the reader reads the work, as parody, but there's still a connection. Many thanks for pointing out the ambiguity. Oct 8 '20 at 23:18
  • Could you rephrase the "premise" you're asking about? I for one didn't understand at all… Oct 11 '20 at 18:27
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How can I cue the reader to see the intended pretentious narrator bloopers, for instance that the first of two divergent descriptions of an Apple Watch as having “a small, circular face” represent bloopers on the part of an incompetent fictional narrator?

You need to establish a frame - something to give the reader the context that your "incompetent narrator" exists and has reason to be subject to making these sorts of bloopers.

So for your particular example you need to give the reader a notion that the story is being told, written or otherwise seen from the view point of someone creating historical fiction about what is current time for the reader - in other words they need to be telling this story in the reader's future.

You could do this by framing it as a story being published within some fictional medium in the future for example.

Once you've tee'd up that this is a faux historical fiction you're then having them in the right mindset to be looking for what your throwing out there.

Then you need to actually give them so parody gags to pick up on and hopefully have a laugh at.

I had a read of the piece and have to the say the Apple Watch "gag" really didn't work - describing it's face shape wrong in two different ways (round and octagonal) didn't feel like a spoof inaccuracy so much as being, well, a mistake.

To be honest even with your primer as to what you were spoofing it felt more like you had intended on the face-shape being a deliberate inaccuracy but then forgot which "wrong" shape you had picked a couple of paragraphs later.

In any event getting the shape of a watch wrong feels like something that would be a legitimate historical fiction mistake rather than a parody of one.

For parody you need to caricature these sorts of mistakes and that means you perhaps need to stretch plausibility as far as you can without it breaking - make it a mistake that looks truly ridiculous to contemporary eyes.

If you apply this to elements that are as mundane and as everyday as possible it adds to the effect. Your social media "blooper":

first Facebook, then Twitter, then Amazon. It was the last that offered the richest social interaction.

does this, and as a result lands far more effectively.

Parody is very difficult to do well, you need the reader to be enough of a fan of the target (or at least to know a decent amount about it) to understand why the parody is funny but not so much of a fan that they are likely to feel defensive about it. What's more is that relying purely on the "in-joke" of it doesn't get you very far on it's own - you still need to make the actual gag be funny in it's own right and that means adding a distinct humorous aspect.

Taking the social media bit above there's three elements to that:

  • the "parody" -> it's a "goof" since Amazon isn't a social network
  • the "pun" -> richest - because they're spending money (and that Mr Bezos is rather well off)
  • the "satire" -> poking a bit of fun at 2020 consumerism culture, I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, I can chuckle at the implicit self-deprecation.

Compare to the "watch" bit and all you have is:

  • the "parody" -> it's a "goof" since Apple Watches aren't round!

So how could you make the Watch parody work? Instead of a relatively minor detail being wrong make the fictitious narrator's whole understanding of what an Apple Watch did wrong - have the character get a call on her phone and she has to hold the watch up and speak into it a la Dick Tracy rather than using the phone itself. It's exactly the sort of mistake a sloppily-researched bit of historical fiction about the 2020-era would make but it's outlandish enough that it's almost a funny image in it's own right.

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