Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Ways to Keep from Keeping up with the Times

Meet 13-year old Morgan Pozgar, 2007 winner
of the LG National Texting Championship.
It may be part of why so many beginning writers try their hand at memoirs about their early days (as vulnerable as that can make you feel) or historical fiction (which require a ton or research, or leaves you open to a great deal of criticism). Writing about contemporary life is harder than it seems. That's because the world has changed so very much, and it doesn't seem to stop!

How do you keep the language or behavior in your young adult novel from sounding like they came from 20, 30 years ago, when you were a young adult yourself? How do you write a kid's book that reflects the world today's kids actually live in? And if you do happen to get the contemporary references right, is your book going to sound out-of-date before it gets out of its first printing?

Movie making would be even harder in this respect. Pour millions of dollars into a piece that before you know it, attracts jeers from viewers or would-be viewers who make fun of the clothes, hair, language .... and the technology.

Novelist Ann Patchett doesn't like technology. And especially she doesn't like the way the ubiquity of technology screws up her intended plot lines. She doesn't want readers or reviewers exclaiming, "Why didn't she just Google that?" "Why didn't he text her and tell her where he was?" Because it would kill the suspense, wouldn't it?

So she writes the story the way she wants to, but has people's cell phones lost or stolen, their batteries and computers die... whatever it takes to get magic techno solutions out of the way. Patchett is a Luddite herself, perhaps unsurprisingly. On the side, she owns and helps run a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Nashville, TN (and refuses to upgrade her flip phone).

I just read and enjoyed her book State of Wonder, carefully set off the grid in the Amazon jungle. That isolation factor itself plays a significant role in creating the novel's tension. I read it from the glowing rectangle of my iPad, of course, though characters in the book pass around carefully plastic-wrapped hardback copies of a set of Dickens.

See Author Ann Patchett Talks about How She Avoids Modern Tech in State of Wonder (Washington Post).

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