Friday, February 24, 2006

DR: A whole new world…A new fantastic point of view




I recently had the opportunity to take a book I wrote in 1994—my first novel—and update it for re-release. I thought I would mostly be updating the medical information, since this book deals with a character suffering from Alzheimer's disease and much has changed in the treatment and diagnosis of Alzheimer's in the past twelve years.

I also thought it would be a nice opportunity to fix some of the novice writer mistakes I made with that first book. What I didn't count on was needing to bring my characters out of the dark ages and into the 21st century by "purchasing" cell phones and computers for them! As I read through the manuscript, at key plot points I found myself screaming at my heroine to "pick up your cell phone and call him, you idiot!" or "Good grief! Look it up on the Internet! Are you stupid?" Well, of course my poor characters weren't stupid, they just happened to have been created in that no-man's-land of the 1990s just before every home acquired a computer and every human between the age of 8 and 80 suddenly deemed it a necessity to carry a cell phone.

It made me realize how much technology has changed the face of contemporary fiction. In this rewrite of A Vow to Cherish, there were scenes when it did not serve my plot well for my characters to have these high tech devices! More than once I had to resort to the ol' "out of service," "forgot to charge the battery" or "the Internet service is down" tricks just to keep my plot on track!

On a writers loop I’m on, we’ve had a recent spate of questions about technological terms. What do you call that little gizmo you store computer files on and carry on your keychain? (USB flash drive, keychain drive, cigar drive, thumb drive, etc.) What do kids listen to music on now that the Walkman is pretty much passé? (An iPod…with earbuds.) Is a Palm Pilot still called a Palm Pilot? (Yes, but there are other versions of it. PDA—personal digital assistant—is the generic term.)

I do have a cell phone now, and my beloved iBook is attached at the hip, but I’ve yet to succumb to the desire for a PDA or iPod. However, a couple weeks ago, I discovered the coolest bit of technology I’ve ever encountered: Google Earth. Oh. My. Goodness! If I wrote suspense, I’d have a hundred plot ideas!

If you write contemporary fiction, how does technology play into your plots? How do you avoid overusing the my-cell-phone-won’t-work plot device? More importantly, how do you write in such a way that your story isn’t technologically outdated the minute it comes off the press? I wonder if Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy had to deal with this problem?

Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (Steeple Hill June 2006). Work in progress: Remember to Forget for Howard Publishing, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster. http://www.deborahraney.com

5 Comments:

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Cathy West said...

So true, Deb. I think we need to remember all these things if we rewrite - I can think of a couple of old stories I have kicking around that I'd definitely need to make some of these changes to! Thanks!

 
At 9:13 PM, Blogger Vennessa said...

Some definite food for thought, Deb.

With my wip set in an area that does have 'out-of-service-range' black spots, I have a genuine excuse. :-)

My fav settings are down the center of New Zealand's South Island; mountainous lake districts. While on a recent research trip with my friend, we discovered areas where my mobile phone could get service, but hers couldn't.

What mobile service you plan to use and their range is just another thing to consider.

 
At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Ane Mulligan said...

Good point. For those of us over the age of 50, these things weren't part of our growing up years, and can be completely ignored in a plot. Thanks for the reminder to kkep our characters up to date. Or else keep them chained to their desk at work so the phone isn't a cell.

Now I'm going to have to get a new copy of A Vow To Cherish adn see the changes, Deb!

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger eileen said...

In my wip I subbed last year, a computer disk was missing. Who knew computer DISKS would be gone by now? Sheesh! I discovered today the "fad" in middle school is text messaging during class...no passing notes. With our fast changing society, how will we keep up? Go Go Jetsons!

 
At 6:59 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

It really is a challenge! The chance of technology making our manuscript out-of-date between the time we turn in the final draft and the time it hits the shelves is great. With my genre, women's fiction, I can probably get away with being a little more generic, but I feel for those of you writing suspense or legal thrillers where technology usually plays a larger role. I've always interviewed someone who works in the same career of my protagonist and even had them read key parts of the manuscript to be sure I had my details right. I think that becomes ever more valuable.
Thanks for all your comments.

 

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