Saturday, April 16, 2011

N: Not the News

I have some movies I really like and watch them over and over again.  One of my favorites I found on TV last week.  'You've Got Mail' with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is a silly and sweet romance with the classic romance plot of rich boy and poor girl forming a bond without realizing who the other person really is.  If you haven't watched it before you should give it a try.  But...

If you know the movie, you can guess the but part.  The movie was made during a time when AOL email was the big technological means of communication rocking the world.  The main characters meet in a chat room somewhere and start up a pen pal type relationship using email.  Today with all texting being the latest way to keep in touch, immediate and cheap, the plot using email at the center is very, very dated.

Almost everything else in the movie fits fine into the modern world, even the clothing style.  The health club scene, the coffee shop and the plot device of big package store bankrupting the little family-owned business works in a nearly timeless fashion.  But...that one little technology thing.

I don't write contemporary but I read lots of contemporary suspense and mysteries.  I think all writers hope their books live forever and authors of contemporaries must be careful how they weave scenery and objects into their story so they don't date it.  Even books written a few years ago are behind on the capabilities of cell phones without even considering advances like iPads.

On the other hand, if your characters are as clever and engaging as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, maybe it won't matter if the rest of your world is ten or fifteen years out of date.  If you use a news event as a background event or perhaps even the inciting incident in your novel, you will put a block in the way of your story not being as timeless as you'd hoped. Unless it hangs around long enough to become a historical rather than contemporary tale.

Have you read a novel recently where you found the technology outdated?  If you write contemporary how do you handle the difficulty of keeping it real but designing to still be relevant in a few years?


  1. i think most people have an automatic acceptance that tech will be slightly off in a story (even if it's set in the future), as well as the fact that no one watches tv or uses the loo and can't recognise Tom Hanks when they see him.

    good post.

  2. No, can't say I've read anything contemporary lately. Using new tech in stories is probably similar to using slang, it can be out of date rather quickly.

  3. I think about technology when really can't escape it. I was watching The Graduate (1967) the other day and the dramatic ending with Hoffman searching for Elaine would never have happened if cell phones and the Internet had existed.

  4. Fascinating post. Mr. G and I have been watching the first series of The Outer Limits and it's been fun watching what they thought technology would be like in the future.

    My WIP is also set in the future and it's been difficult deciding what life might be like in 2000 years time!

    Ellie Garratt

  5. I read to go somewhere else -- back in time, forward in time, if it's a good story I'm in.

  6. Interesting, I read contemporary fiction, some of which is pretty good with current technology included. Outdated quickly? Well, I guess but some tech will always be around.

    Nice to meet you via the A to Z. ;-)

  7. If the story and characters are good, I can forgive the technology.

  8. Yeah, pretty much everything you write in contemporary is historical by the time it gets published.

    I do have to watch it, and be realistic when writing YA, but I think not having the tech dominate the book with specific references and such is the best hope of keeping it from sounding dated in a few years.

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about creating clever and engaging characters first. The fact that the technology is dated won't matter if you master the characters. I, too, love You've Got Mail so much. It makes me feel wonderful watching it. I think both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made it absolutely perfect. Now, yes, I do have a special place in my heart for AOL because that was the first chatting platform I used, but I still think it wouldn't make a bit of difference if people who had no clue what AOL was watched it.

  10. I find I appreciate movies for their time period. I love really old movies and it is very strange to see the rotary phone that never breaks. I have been through at least 40 phones since I gave up that Ma Bell rotary. I am sentimental so I enjoy remembering those times before so much technology. Do not get me wrong back off my but it is funny to remember those days.

  11. You've Got Mail is the i ching of all romance movies- bar none... sigh... But then, I don't even own a cell phone...