July 24, 2010 at 3:32 am (Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Reading over some of my favourite childhood stories I realised that a lot of them have dated themselves terribly. I also note this when watching Buffy or other television shows that I loved in highschool. Just every now and then a line comes out and you just wince – wow! That’s dated.

I didn’t need to worry about this so much when writing Death’s Daughter because I set it in an entirely fantasy world that doesn’t directly link to any of Earth’s time periods. There were no references to current events or trends or anything else that would make it feel old within a few years and that was one less thing for me to worry about. Not so much with my current WIP.

Once again I’ve set it entirely in a fantasy world but this time there is a cross over element and one of my characters does come from modern Earth. How modern? Well, he is insisting on carrying his phone everywhere even though he hasn’t a chance at getting reception because the thought of leaving his phone behind is all but paralysing. What is this going to do for the story in terms of it getting dated?

Given the story and the fact that none of the other characters have current Earth knowledge I’m not throwing one-liners in referencing current events although he does occasionally reference television shows and notable characters. I’m resisting the urge to label his phone as any particular type because that would certainly date the story fairly quickly. His clothes are pretty basic and would fit most of the last twenty – thirty years and hopefully fashion isn’t going to completely change in the next ten.

What I’ve realised is that having any connection to the real world is adding a whole other set of problems to writing that I didn’t have to deal with previously and I’m walking a fine line between leaving it fairly non-specific as to when he was living on Earth in order to prevent the story being dated and just not giving the reader enough details to hold on to the story.

So I am seeking advice from those of you who have considered this previously. Do you worry about your stories getting dated and how do you deal with this?



  1. Mark Souza said,

    Creating the context of a period in time keeps a story from getting dated. If you have a character from the sixties wearing tie-dyed shirts and uttering things like, “Groovy, man,” it never becomes dated as it’s true to that period in time.

    The only way a story comes across as dated is if no time period is specified, like those that are supposed to happening now. Ten, twenty or fifty years later they will seem dated, where as a story with a strong sense of time never grows old. Look at stories like “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Great Depression), “Gone With the Wind” (Civil War), “Water for Elephants” (Great Depression), and “The Book Thief” (World War II). All are set in a specific time period and true to that period, and because of it, are timeless.

    I think providing your Earthling a specific time period will keep the novel from becoming dated.

  2. Casey Lybrand said,

    I like Mark’s idea of specifying the time period; I enjoy reading stories from different time periods. I hear you about not being *too* specific about the phone, but I think it will be cool in ten years (when we all have cybernetic communication implants in our brains) to read a story with a glimpse of technology from this decade.

    I have a real soft spot for the near-future dystopias written in the middle of the last century. The technology was still speculative when they were written, and we’ve moved beyond a lot of it now (and in many cases, somewhat differently than it was imagined). Yet I can still re-tune my mind when reading them to appreciate the tech as it is written, and not worry about how dated it is. I know you are talking about current tech that will date, but I find, as a reader, my experience is similar — I *like* dated tech.

    My current WIP has no real-world technology, so I’ll this from the perspective of a reader: enjoy the era, and don’t worry too much about it.

    P.S. My favorite dated Buffy episode is “I, Robot… You, Jane”. Archaic internet technology FTW!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Yes, I, Robot… You, Jane is hilarious when watching the online chat sequences among others.

  3. Cruella Collett said,

    I agree wih the other comments here – how you choose to present it matters. As long as it is appropriate for its context it shouldn’t matter if it isn’t entirely generic – in fact, having certain details that help placing this Earth-character in a proper context might be good, because it help the reader relate (even if he/she is reading it years after it was written). I often find myself loving stories that rather than specify “it was in the 1970s..”, they give clues through descriptions of clothing, television shows, technology and so on.

    Good luck 🙂

  4. Alex Willging said,

    I think it depends on two things: how you present your references and the audience you’re writing for. I can see how some references get dated real quick, or might not be as strong thirty years later. On the other hand, Steven Brust embeds all kinds of Earth-based, modern-day lines and allusions into his works, which are set in an alternate world of a medieval era. I think there’s even a fan page devoted to just tracking the one-liners and modern connections in Mr. Brust’s stories, and it’s quite an illuminating read.

  5. slytherclawchica said,

    When I’m thinking about “modern” I do exactly what you are doing now: keep it vague. It’s okay to reference movies and television shows, because someone out there will be watching I Love Lucy sixty years from now (even if it’s just me). But labels are dangerous if you want the Moderns to be able to relate, because what Prada has a scandal and becomes unfashionable? Yikes, you probably don’t want your uptown protagonist wearing them.

    At any rate, /bonne chance/!

  6. Agatha82 said,

    Interesting, I set out to purposely set my current novel in the 1980’s because I did not want mobile phones and current technology to get in the way so I have “dated” the novel on purpose. Would the novel work set in 2010? Not quite, it’s not just the technology being absent but the fact that in 1982 there was still opportunity for a new genre of music to my boy’s band, doesn’t look “dated” back then but it would be dated now…

    In regards to avoiding things to date a novel, I’d be sure not to use brand names and maybe not name specific songs that are popular but the biggest thing is how the characters talked, if you had one who used a lot of slang, perhaps, that could date it and of course clothing also does. I purposely mention rah-rah skirts in my novel to ensure people realise this is 1982…

  7. theoldsilly said,

    I keep “dating” in mind when I pen novels. Specific technologies are one thing that can date a book, but of course if you are writing about contemporary things, you can’t ignore them either. I also think if a book is classic enough in its makeup, it will still be popular when the “dating” is obvious. Good stories stand up to the test of time.

  8. Jemi Fraser said,

    It is hard. Technology is growing at an especially fast rate. I think a few references to modern stuff is fine, but I tend to avoid them when I’m writing contemporary stuff – things change so much.

  9. Lua said,

    “Do you worry about your stories getting dated and how do you deal with this?”
    Not really. Because even though I write about my time and my story is taking place in Istanbul, I feel like if it’s good writing, it won’t be outdated. Sure, maybe some trends or some lines will be but in the end people are people and something never really change. I believe if we reflect our time well, we won’t be dated.
    I think that’s one of the reasons why people still like reading Jane Austen novels.

  10. Miss Rosemary said,

    This is an interesting concept to think about. Only one of my novels is set in modern times with no specific dates, so I tried to do as you said with referencin as little current events as possible and leaving clothing vague except where details are absolutely necessary, and even then making them generally fit into the last thrity year or so (the generic jeans and colored t-shirt). All my others are set in specific historical times, so it doens’t matter when the are read.

    But don’t worry about dating yourself. I have a sister who is 11 year younger then me and I can truthfully say that I remember when she and her friends were still in the womb. And also writers like Austen and Fitzgerald set their stories in “contemporary” times too, technically. Who knows in a hundred years people could be reading you and saying, “Wow they actually lived like that! And she would know becasue she was THERE!”

  11. Kyle said,

    I have a few different opinions on this:

    1. I think reading a very dated story can add an element of comedy later on when a characters says something that was very widely used when the story is written and/or takes place, because then you think about how completely ridiculous that saying is.

    2. Dating a story is not a problem, because even though the “classics” are extremely dated, they are still loved because they are a great story. If the story is good, then it doesn’t matter when it takes place.

    3. You could always just confuse people with the cell phone. For instance, mention that he has a very old style of phone, and I’m talking like one of the original Nokia brick phones. Then, later in the story, say he has some form of a blue tooth headset for it. Just something that didn’t exist at the same time. This will show that the character is from a modern Earth, but since it’s a fantasy novel, they can be from some version of modern Earth. This may be one way to keep from dating it too much.

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