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?
Thanks everyone for your comments and warm welcome back. I’m still slightly jet-lagged, back at work full-time, have in-house guests and a number of other things going on at the moment so am having a wonderful time trying to settle back into a rhythm. No writing happening at the moment but I know now for sure that I’m going to be rewriting my WIP in first person. Ever since I made that decision I’ve had ideas and pieces of narration flowing through my head continuously so I know I’m on the right track.
This post I want to talk a bit about my trip but not about all the amazing things I saw. I want to talk about the characters I collected.
I am a people watcher. I can’t help it. And when I see a person my first thought is usually about what sort of character could they be. From there my head then adds details and backstories and extra physical features and the final character ends up nothing like the person that was the catalyst for their creation which is probably just as well as they are based on a five minute impression of someone I’ve probably never spoken to.
So which characters did I collect?
The Bore. This is the guy who sits behind you in the bus and tells the same boring story four times throughout the day. Everytime someone new comes along, out comes the story. And it was a boring story to begin with. This is the guy whose girlfriend starts talking over because he is that boring. Yet he insists on getting to the end of his story even if nobody is listening. Plus, he doesn’t vary the story or expand it with the retelling. It is told the same way every time with the same words and in the same monotone drone.
The Tourist. There are people who tour and then there are tourists. The tourist is the one who actually believes that speaking louder will help people understand the words they are saying. The tourist is the one who criticises the hotel staff for not speaking English (in a non-English speaking country). The one who pokes the breakfast rolls and grimaces at the idea of eating food that they are unfamiliar with. Instead of responding with wonder and the strange and unusual, the tourist either photographs it or turns their nose up at it.
The Impatient Man. This one is the guy who does everything short of running you over to get ahead of you in a cue. Then he proceeds to try to work his way around you, gently shoving you and your belongings to the side. When that doesn’t work he starts calling out to the person at the head of the cue trying to get himself a reason to walk around you. Then, if someone else dares to push in anywhere in the line, this is the man that goes off at them and berates them. Signature of the impatient man is the rumpled, grey suit. It is always grey for some reason.
The Dreamer. This one I saw several of, mostly in London. They wander around in the parks staring at the grass or the trees and they seem to tilt in the direction the wind is blowing. These people are in serious danger of getting run over by bike riders or even running squirrels because they are not at all focused on what is happening around them. They frequently have paper backs stuffed into their back pockets.
I collected many others but what is important is that being around new people in new situations got me looking closer at the people around me. I am always watching people but this trip really helped me to focus on some of the smaller details.
One thing that amazed me was when I was in line to go to the Eiffel Tower there were a group of soldiers, with very large guns, walking around underneath and generally keeping an eye on things. That kind of freaked me out because seeing a soldier in uniform is kind of something for ANZAC day only and seeing someone with a gun that big in public is fairly uncommon in Australia. It was interesting watching how some of the other visitors responded. Some tried to photograph them and were rebuked. Others utterly ignored them, treated them as if they were part of the scenery. Others snuck covert glances at them while others stared openly. It was just interesting seeing the array of reactions.
Well, I probably won’t get to post again until the weekend but I am wishing everyone a very good week. In the meantime, I would love to hear some of the characters you have collected over the years.