Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Matters Zeitgeisty, or How my blog post title mojo isn't what it might be

Thanks for all the lovely comments on my extract for the Love At First Blogfest! Apologies for my blog-silence all week. I've been sick, and so I haven't been reading blogs as much as I should have. I'm still a little under the weather, so further apologies if this post ranges all over the place.

I have, however, been comfort reading, which for me generally means YA. And just as I was in the middle of having some thoughts about it, Randy Russell has a guest post on his blog from Maurissa Guibord, about the use of technology in fiction.

It's not exclusively a YA problem. In fact, I'd guess detective and suspense fiction probably have the worst time of it. Imagine if the talented Mr. Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf were on Facebook, for example, and bang goes your premise.

But teens tend to be early adopters of new technology, and two of the novels I read got me thinking about their use of technology. Both books are by the same author.

The first book is an updated version of one originally published in the late 90s, and although all of the pop culture references have been seamlessly updated, one thing stood out. A character's boyfriend keeps calling the hotel where she is staying and leaving messages for her while she's out (it is quite important that he not reach her for a couple of days). And at another point, the same character is supposed to meet her friends and decides not to at the last minute - not unreasonably, she gets a mild bollocking when they find her.

Seriously, get this girl a mobile. I'll chip in.

And this could have been disguised fairly easily - just mention she forgot her charger and couldn't borrow one, that her phone doesn't work abroad, anything. But without it, because the rest of the book was so up-to-date, it seemed like quite an omission.

By contrast, the second book was massively tech-heavy, with characters constantly uploading photos, emailing each other, adding each other on Facebook and at one point, live-Tweeting a fight as it happened.

The second one was more realistic, as I sat reading it in February 2010. But I can't help feeling the first one will age better.

There are certain kinds of technology that are just faddish. Email and texting are not among them - people have always sent written messages, and when email and texts have become obsolete, I think future readers will still be able to enjoy books that feature them, in the way we can still enjoy books the rely heavily on letters and telegrams for their plot points (one of my uncles informs me that eleven letters are sent in King Lear, she says for no apparent reason. Just thought it was interesting).

I do wonder how references to Facebook and Twitter will date, though. Firstly, if you wanted to be down with the young folk a couple of years ago (in Ireland, anyway), Bebo would have been the social network to namecheck, not Facebook. And having watched an entire generation of Irish people migrate en masse from Bebo to Facebook, I wonder what will replace Facebook when it gets boring.

I feel it helps to avoid mentioning specific 'brand' names. I'm loath to say this, because mentioning brands can really help to ground a novel in its time and place, and avoiding them can look so dodgy if it's badly done, but there are ways and means. Say email and not Hotmail (does anyone still use Hotmail? I'm a Gmail girl myself these days). And say 'I checked to see if she had replied to my email' rather than 'I logged on to Gmail to see if she'd replied', or 'She'd posted my pictures all over the internet where anyone could bloody see them' instead of 'She'd posted my pictures on her Facebook where any of her friends and her friends' friends could see them, under that bloody new privacy policy.'

That's just my $0.02. I imagine if a novel has tweets and status updates and Farmville wars (ooh, idea. . . ) and Nintendo Wiis and blogs and iPhone apps, future ages will still manage to figure out what was meant and enjoy the book. If the writing is up to scratch, little else matters. But you'll look properly outdated in eighteen months.

Of course, my grand plan goes out the window if you're writing something where the plot hinges on technology. There has rarely been a time in history when technology has changed so much, so fast, in ways accessible to so many people. It's a tough time to be a writer.

Has anyone had to deal with these issues? How do you get around them?


  1. For someone who's been sick you just wrote an excellent post on how to get around tech issues. Hope you feel better soon.

  2. Thanks Tricia, glad you liked the post. It went through a few edits to make sure it was coherent :)


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