Saturday, April 30, 2011

Zeitgeist - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Guys, we made it! 26 posts later and I think we've all earned a few cups of pink tea :)

And it's been quite a month - one of my oldest friends got a book deal, which was wonderful news, and Talli's blog vanished, which was not.

But I still have one entry to go, and I want to talk about zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist is a German word that literally means 'time spirit', or the spirit of a particular time period. (I include this fact just to underscore how great the German language is for coming up with new, compound words to explain concepts we all understand but can't name. Schadenfreude, anyone?)

Anyway. We all recognise a book that captures zeitgeist when we see it. I've written a post before on how naming specific kinds of technology - websites, models of mobile phone - can age a novel very obviously. It's a fine line between capturing the reality of our lives today (the existence of mobile phones has done a huge amount, both good and bad, for plotting) and having someone read your book two years from now and think 'Huh. Bebo. So five minutes ago.'

But no one wants to read colourless word-soup with no identifying features either. And people now do Facebook and blog and YouTube and flagrantly use nouns as verbs. It's just how we roll.

In November, I took part in Nanowrimo and hit on an ingenious way to shamelessly pad my wordcount (well, ingenious for me. Every year on the Nano forums, the dirty tricks posted are phenomenal in both number and cunning). I set the book in real time. That meant when I got stuck, I could throw in references to what was in the news that day.

Luckily, November 2010 was an interesting month in Ireland. Our economy was bailed out by the EU because the country was headed for insolvency, and we experienced freak weather.

And when I re-read the novel in 2011, I found that it read like a period piece. Already, so much had happened - the days where we were wondering if there would be a bail-out felt like a distant memory now that we were living with the reality of it.

I also found a ton of stuff that made no sense and had to be cut out. But I left in more than I expected - I explained the situation better, and had characters make fleeting reference to it rather than actually have conversations about it. And I left enough detail that someone who had never heard of the Irish bail-out deal could follow it and see why the characters cared.

It was a very difficult balance but I think I may have got it right. Only my beta-readers will know for sure once I get Draft Two to them.

Personally, I found it helpful to imagine a reader trying to make sense of it in fifty years. We may not use typewriters or telegrams anymore but we can easily understand their function in a story. And fifty years from now, I doubt anyone will care about the IMF bail out - they certainly won't remember the details. We also probably won't remember what Facebook was.

But if we get across the essential nature of something - whether a means of sharing information and communicating publicly, or an economic threat to a small island shaped like a teddy bear - then it shouldn't matter if the nuts and bolts are dated.

If you made it this far - well done! It was wonderful to meet so many new bloggers this month and I'll be popping back to the lists of participants to find new people to visit :)


  1. I wonder if we'll still be googling in 50 years time too?

    Yay for finishing the A-Z challenge!!!! Congrats to too your friend who got the book deal!! And good luck with your redrafting too! Take care

  2. You are one of the best things to come out of this challenge, Ellen. I love your blog. Good luck with your writing and looking forward to reading more from you.

  3. Congratulations on reaching the end!

  4. Well done making it to the end, and thanks for the shout-out! :-)

  5. Kitty, I suspect Google won't go down without a fight :p

    Many thanks Karen, lovely of you to say it :) Delighted to have discovered you too!

    Cheers William :)

    Anytime, Paul :) well done on reaching the end yourself!

  6. I love that word. And hey, it's fun to find your blog! Wish I'd found it sooner, but I've followed it so that I won't miss out on any future posts.

    Good to meet you!

  7. I love your word. It is really a talent(one I don't have...yet) to be able to see into the future and figure out what gadgets we should include..

  8. Nice blog! And yes, finally done with the challenge. I'll be writing my reflection soon too.

  9. Congrats on finishing the challenge and a big hooray for your friend who landed a book deal. That is awesome news!

    The Madlab Post

  10. Nice Z word; Congrats on crossing the finish line!
    Good Luck with your draft; Congrats to your friend.
    I'm thinking about Nano, not sure yet....
    ;-D I love your name

  11. Well done, found you in time to cheer you across the finishing line. yay.

  12. Thanks RG, followed you back! Congratulations on finishing the challenge!

    Doreen, I agree, it is a talent. I find generic words rather than branded terms helpful but that can just sound like bland flavourless word soup (imagine how unreadable books would be if people grabbed a 'carbonated lemon and lime drink' instead of a Sprite. . . it's certainly a tough balance!

    I also popped by your blog and followed as I enjoyed what I read - and just wanted to say I'm glad you got through April, I lost my father in April and anniversaries are a very difficult time.

    Thanks Stephanie, I enjoyed your reflection post.

    Thanks Nicole :) It's definitely been a big month.

    Cheers Ella, congrats to you too! I like your name as well, I always think Ella sounds much more feminine than Ellen :) Nano is brilliant fun, even if you don't think you can reach 50k, it can be worth it for the experience. No doubt I'll be going on about it in November anyway :)

    Thanks Mood, congratulations to you too! I followed your blog - I like how we both chose YA as our subject for Y, definitely agree that the blogosphere is rich in YA fantasy writing females. . . Lucky I like those genres :)

  13. Congrats on completing the challenge. I managed it too, but didn't get around to visiting any many blogs as I intended, so I'm trying to catch up now.
    Great to meet someone from Dublin - one of my favourite cities, will be there again later this month!

  14. Congratulations on completing the challenge. I love the name of your blog. Finally got here today as I'm working my way through the reflection posts!

  15. Thanks Paula, hope you enjoy your visit here. We're having nice weather at the moment, it would be great if it lasted!

    Thanks for visiting, glad you like the name! I love your blog title too, very uplifting!

  16. You have done well. This challenge was quite the challenge. We all would have liked to visit other bloggers. I actually might get through the reflections list this week. It seems to keep growing... But I am glad I finally made it your blog....

  17. Yay you for completing the challenge. :) The wonderful peeps I've "met" have just been such a joy.

    And Oh EM Gee...this post. Exactly. I don't know if I can write a coherent comment in regard to this...

    Sounds silly.

    ...but the whole thing...ugh (not usually at a loss for words) put to "paper" all the things I think when I head to (goodwill or SA) for a book(s) grab.

    First thing I do is look at the publish date. I will go as far back as '97 but I want to feel connected and the newer the title, the better...BUT that also means I'm missing out...

    So...yikes. ANYway, loved this post and will follow because I want to hear more from you :)

    Cheers :)

  18. I guess it's better to just put in what you need to put into the story to give it a feel of the times in which you are writing about without trying to make it too detailed or too timeless. That's probably why I have usually avoided writing about too contemporary of things.

    Anyway, congratulations on making it to the end of the Challenge and thanks for being a part of it.

    Don't forget to pick up your Winner's Badge at my site.
    Tossing It Out

  19. Good to meet you too Michael, well done on the challenge :D

    San, I'm glad you like the post, never occured to me that technology was affecting our choices as readers but that's really interesting. I know I find YA novels (one of my favourite genres) without Facebook and mobile phones very, very weird to read these days!

    I've popped over to your blog and followed, good luck on the rest of your journey to better health :)

    Thanks for the comment Arlee, off to grab my badge now! And thanks a million for undertaking hosting duties for April :)

  20. You bring up some interesting points, here. I generally love historical fiction, but hadn't really considered that setting a novel in 2011 WILL be historical fiction one day. I'm currently writing sci-fi and loving the freedom to invent the world all over again. I didn't make it to all the blogs during the challenge, so Shannon @ The Warrior Muse and I are joining forces in another challenge. We're going to visit and comment at each of the participants, starting with the reflections post. We hope you'll join us!
    Tina @ Life is Good


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