Revising Leah

December 22, 2008

Technology, Culture, and Writing Fiction

If you are writing stories set in the present day, as I am, then you’ve probably worried, as I have, about how to refer to (or ignore) information technology and all of the little electronic devices that we carry with us nowadays. Their ubiquity in modern culture causes the fiction writer at least two problems.

First, there is the problem of trying to keep up with technology. Things are changing so fast. Every day there is a new gadget or a new must-visit website, and every day some other gadget that was popular a few years ago falls into obsolescence, or yesterday’s cool website or web app is abandoned as users flock to the next big thing. Writing about young people, as I do, makes the problem even more difficult because fads and tastes change daily, and it is young people who are most likely to embrace whatever is new and fun. For example, when I revised The Spring for publication, I had to insert mp3s and mp3 players into the story in order to bring it up to date, but at the same time, I was careful not to call any character’s player an “iPod”. The iPod might be the dominant brand of mp3 player right now, but that could change in five years. When I mention technology in my stories, I’m careful not to mention specific brands. If I did, it would date the story and limit it to a specific period of time — even a specific year. I want to try to keep my stories as current and “present day” as possible. There will come a time when certain items and activities seem anachronisitic, but hopefully that’s still a while off.

Second, all of this new technology is changing the way people interact with each other. Yes, people still make friends or fight or fall in love, but the way that they do those things is changing. It feels like we’re in a transitional time — or maybe, from this point forward, the only cultural constant will be transition.

Technology wasn’t always moving so fast. Through most of the 20th century, if two people wanted to communicate with each other, they could write letters, speak on the telephone, or meet in person (by car or train or subway). Now, young people don’t write letters, they text each other. They don’t talk on the telephone, they use cell phones. And while face-to-face meetings are still popular (I hope), young people are just as likely to keep in touch with Facebook, MySpace, blogs, or through any number of the various social applications and websites. Their online existence bleeds into their offline existence. But once again, mentioning any of these specific devices or sites or activities by name is dangerous. Right now, Facebook rules supreme, but if (and when) a cooler, better site comes along, Facebook could be a ghost town in a few years. And already blogs and email are starting to seem old-fashioned. How much longer will WordPress last?

But telling a good story means placing human relationships front and center. Even in a story like Leah, which is about a girl who spends most of her time by herself, the relationships that she has — or tries to have — with the other characters is the most important thing. With technology changing culture, and culture changing the way that humans interact with each other, writers are under pressure to adapt how their characters interact with each other while still preserving the results of that interaction: the loving and fighting that has always been part of human culture and literature.

How has our technological culture influenced the way you construct your stories?

(This will probably be my last blog post until after Christmas. After Christmas, I will begin documenting the process of publishing a novel through Lulu. It should be fun. I hope everyone curious about self-publishing visits me again.)

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2 Comments »

  1. It is an interesting thing to think about, the world is changing so quickly and like you said – using any brand named products whether they are hardware, software, websites, whatever, is probably not the best thing because things change so quickly.
    Most of what I write isn’t set in the modern world, so it’s not something I have to worry about too much. That said, I wrote a YA novel earlier in the year and my characters did use text messaging and the internet.
    Hope you have a wonderful Christmas :-)

    Comment by J.C — December 23, 2008 @ 1:34 am

  2. I don’t think that tech culture has influenced the way I construct my stories. What I’m sure of is that technology has made education and writing faster. I even remembered reading that technology will bring a new kind of democracy. Just mind-boggling.

    Comment by pochp — December 23, 2008 @ 2:32 am


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