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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Pop Culture References In Fiction

I've been thinking about pop culture references in stories off and on for the past few months and wondering how much is too much. I'm not sure I've reached an answer yet because there are two competing forces at work.

On one side, pop culture can ground the story and make the characters seem more real, and sometimes, easier to relate to. Also trying to make every reference to music or cars or technology generic isn't easy to do and it can lead to some odd sentences, things that just jar me out of a book when I read them. Even when I'm the writer who did it.

On the other hand, things change and these pop culture references can date a book badly. There's a book I bought used a long time after its release and the mention of a velour top and wrap-around skirt stopped me cold. I hadn't checked out the copyright date when I bought it, but when I read that, I couldn't help but flip to the front. That's really not something I want to have people do with my stories.

When I wrote In the Darkest Night MySpace wasn't dead and the rise of the blogs that were created simply to post pictures that make fun of people hadn't gained traction yet. So in the story, my heroine is worried about the pictures of her scared face being posted on Facebook or MySpace. Ouch! Now, I wish I'd just said internet or something.

And to flip back to the other side again, I like being able to put cars or music groups in the story. In Blood Feud it means something to say my heroine drives a Aston Martin DBS. If I'd just said expensive sports car, the reader might go with Ferrari or Porsche or Lamborghini which gives a completely different picture of the heroine than the car she did drive. And thanks to James Bond, I was comfortable that most people would know what the car looked like.

Of everything involving present-day culture, though, the thing that worries me the most is technology. As fast as that's racing ahead and evolving, it won't take long for something to be dated. This goes beyond the MySpace misstep I made. Cell phones versus smart phones. Tablets versus laptops versus desktops. All the tech getting added to cars.Video games. And how all these things relate to the characters.

Just wow.

My first book was released in Nov 2002--ten years ago. Go to Google Images and put in 2002 cell phones. Now enter 2012 cell phones. Look at how much change has happened in just ten years.

Of course, there were no cell phones in my first book--it was set in the future on a planet light years away from Earth--but that's a good example of how quickly things could get dated from one casual reference. It actually would have been dated in about five years because the first iPhone came out in 2007 (per Wikipedia).

I think I'm going to have to write part 2 of this because I haven't even touched on characters interacting with technology. So Part 2 coming on Tuesday.