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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pop Culture and Fiction

I've been thinking this week about pop culture and how it's used in fiction. I will admit that I absolutely loathe brand name dropping (especially designer name dropping) when I read a book. Every time I see a heroine in Bruno Magli shoes, I cringe a little. There are other shoe brands besides this one.

And here is where I confess that I did, indeed, mention a brand of shoes for a secondary character in one of my books. But she wore Amalfi pumps and the only reason I named a brand at all was because the rhythm of the sentence screamed out for one.

Pop culture references, though, go beyond designer names. Characters don't exist in a vacuum--or at least they shouldn't. If someone is writing a contemporary story, these people need to use computers, cell phones, and watch television and movies. They should text their friends, listen to their iPods, and know about major forces in the society. For example, is there any adult (or kid for that matter) in the United States who hasn't seen at least one episode of The Brady Bunch? Or maybe seen one of the movies?

So when I write I have characters who are Cubs fans, who drive Ford Explorers or Aston Martins, characters who have seen the blockbuster movies, and who own computers, cell phones, and send text messages. Not only does it define the character, but it also makes them more real.

This was something that came up while I was writing In the Midnight Hour. I had references in there to Bewitched because the heroine is a magic-wielding troubleshooter and the hero is a human who's just been introduced to such a person existing in the world. If he didn't know Bewitched, there'd be something wrong with him. But one of my friends called my attention to Charmed and felt that the hero and heroine would be familiar with that show, too. She was right.

Ryne, my heroine, would be interested in the human portrayal of magic users--for a good laugh if for no other reason. It's also fair to assume with the show going into reruns before it went off the air, that Deke, the hero had seen it, too. And that he would base his knowledge of magic on Hollywood representations because he knows nothing else.

IMO, there's always a need to balance the pop culture references. Too many and it's annoying. Too trendy and it dates your book. And this is especially hard with music. Groups come and go so fast now.

When I needed music for In the Darkest Night, I knew Kel wouldn't listen to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He was 29, not 59 and he's listening to current music (not that I might not have a hero or heroine in the future who's really into classic rock, but Kel wasn't). I went with Korn because they'd been around for a little while and took a stab that Seether would still be around in five years. I hope I gambled right with those choices. :-)

I still remember picking up an old Silhouette Desire. I remember the story being awesome, although I can't remember the author or the title. But as I was reading, I hit a description of what the heroine was wearing--a velour top and a wrap-around skirt. That jerked me out of the story quickly because it was so dated.

This stuck with me for years and it's part of the reason why I go with very classic styles for my characters. My heroes and heroines generally wear jeans and T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts or I'll just say she was wearing a black skirt. My big foray into more specific clothing was In Twilight's Shadow. I tried to give enough for the reader to picture the dresses Maia wore, but not so specific that it dated the book. I hope I succeeded, but since I'm not a fashion maven, I don't know.

So yeah, balance. It's not always an easy line to walk, but I think it's one authors have to tread or their characters become less real. I'm not going to reference a TV show like My Own Worst Enemy in any of my books (even though it was a totally awesome show that more people should have watched so that it didn't get cancelled), but shows that ran for a while, or that have lived forever on TV Land? Yeah, those get mentioned.