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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Characters and Technology

Last week I talked about pop culture references in fiction and one of the things that came up as I wrote about it was how characters interact with technology. That's something I wanted to delve into a little more deeply.

Technology is part of our everyday lives, woven deeply into the fabric of our worlds. I see people all the time in real life who are surgically attached to their cell phones. This seems to be more usual than my extreme aversion to the telephone in all its forms. :-) Although, if I had a smart phone, I'd readily be addicted to the internet portion of the phone. I just hate the talking part.

Anyway, with paranormal romance, I feel like I have a bit more leeway. My Blood Feud stories have featured vampires and demons mostly and not very many humans. I have no problem with a 500-year-old vampire not having a cell phone, but in stories like my Light Warrior books, these characters are magical people who are living human lives. They have cell phones. And other technology.

Which leads to the question I asked last week: How can a writer keep references she/he makes in their story to technology or other pop culture things from dating the story?

It colors characterization, too. I have a hero who is ex-Special Forces. I actually had to find out why he doesn't play video games. That he doesn't goes all the way back to his childhood, but this isn't a subject I normally quiz my characters about. But everyone plays video games now, so I need to know why he didn't. At least I don't have to worry about his choice of games or gaming systems dating the story!

I also have that same hero receive a voice mail from his heroine on his cell phone. I spent time thinking about why she called him instead of texting him because she didn't want to talk to him live and had planned to roll to his voice mail.

It could be worse. There are authors who've been around a lot longer than ten years and they're talking about old books they wrote where the entire plot would fall apart if the character had a cell phone. Some of them talked about putting a note up front to tell readers the story was written before phones were everywhere.

One of the things that was so hard when I wrote one of my futuristics was computers. In the research I'd done, there'd been speculation on where keyboards were going. There were a lot of different options to pick from and I deliberately stayed very, very vague about how my heroine accessed the computer system. And even making that choice, I had to revise the text more than once to take out a stray reference to typing.

I have an idea for a story involving computers and a heroine who works in the field. Now granted, it's an idea that's down on the To Do List a ways, but I'm already worrying about the technology and how fast the story would be out of date.

The other day, I read a story about Generation Y (AKA the Millennials) and how so many of them don't own cars! That they're buying houses, renting apartments on subway lines or bicycling into work. Of course, geography plays a role in this. I'm guessing Los Angeles is still auto focused and in Atlanta, you'd take your life into your hands riding a bike to work down here, but now this is another factor to consider in stories. Characters and cars and that a lot of 26-year-old men and women don't own cars.

I'm not sure it ever ends--the things writers need to know and worry about--because it's all about making the characters real and that means knowing what music they listen to and how they get around town. But these very things put a book solidly into a time frame.

So basically I haven't figured out how to balance grounding a story and making it and the characters real versus dating it quickly as being from a certain time period. I hate being in a quandary like this.