Why are many people biased about when a book should be set?

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Thread: Why are many people biased about when a book should be set?

  1. #1

    Why are many people biased about when a book should be set?

    Recently, a lot of people claim that it's important to set a book at the same time or around the year it's published so that readers can relate to the characters. One person on a different site even said that it was smart for J.K. Rowling to set the "Harry Potter" series in the 90's, when she first developed it, and not earlier. Otherwise, children would not be able to relate to characters easily. And another person, who might've been a literary agent said that with the exception of historical fiction, books should not be written for a different era, although they may have meant something else
    Anyway, a couple editors claimed that my first 2 books being set in 2010 was unpleasing to them. One said that it was "outdated", but then they said that although I can set my story whenever I wanted, a time setting shouldn't be specified unless it's important. But I had already set the first book in 2010 and the editor was editing the sequel. The one for when I was updating my first installment kept commenting on events that were set in the 2000's decade and suggested that I update the setting as the readers were babies or very little during 2010. I wrote back and said that I wasn't happy about that and I felt that they were telling me when I could or couldn't set my story. Then they clarified and said that it was just a recommendation, I should get to set my story whenever I want, and that they would never tell a writer when they could or could not set their story. And the dates and days of the week certain events happen are important to take place during those times. Changing the year setting would've made a huge mess with that. Plus, I developed the story in the early part of this decade.
    I understand that readers should be able to relate to book characters, but I disagree with discouraging books set too early for them to relate to. I keep thinking, "Kids are going to have to read books like anyway, at least for school. And I'm sure there's a reason why school curriculums often require reading material set during times students can't relate to." And with fantasy, it's still common for them to be set in medieval or Renaissance-like times. "Lord of the Rings" came out in the mid-twentieth century, but isn't set then. "Ella Enchanted" came out in the 90's, but isn't set then, either.
    So, why do readers care a lot about when a book is set?
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  2. #2
    Hi sun. I find the information in your post a little confusing, or I should say that the comments you are receiving about the year your book takes place is confusing. It actually sounds as if they are saying that any book that was not written during current times will simply not be understood by anyone who didn't grow up during those years. That's just silly.

    I think books taking place in past decades often can often be much more interesting only because they cover a time when I wasn't around. I mean, if you understand everything,have no interest in how anything has developed over the years before your birth, how boring would that be? The decades before cell phones became as popular as they are now, for example, presents tons of wonderful opportunities to create how people communicated, what they did when there was no "instant gratification," or what measures they had to take to get what they needed? Like the sound of a constantly ringing phone coming through the walls of a cheap apartment, because the person living there has been murdered in the night?

    This is just an example, of course, of just one thing that past decades can provide for an interesting read. There's all the drama around WWII, and I can attest to the fact that BBC has absolutely capitalized on programs that focus on the home front during those years; very popular.

    So, my opinion is that these folks you have spoken to don't know up from down. There.
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.

  3. #3
    Write what you want to write and don't care what others want. If they want to write a book about today, let them do it themselves. The whole of the historical fiction and science fiction genres wouldn't exist with ridiculous advice like this.

  4. #4
    I think the idea is not exactly what you've posted but just that if a specific year is listed for contemporary fiction, a brand new book coming out seems more like the hottest, newest, latest thing if it's set in the current year, whereas making that specific listed year a few years back instead might come across as a little stale or dated. But if possible, it's probably better not to nail it down to a specific year if the book is set in current/very recent time.

    However, if it's obviously not in the current time period but decades back or more, then it is (or borders on being) historical fiction, which is a completely different thing. (Historical fiction also fits more of a niche and may not have as wide a following).

    It's more a suggestion than any ironclad rule. But if you're not sure which way you want to go with it, you could look up some well published, contemporary novels and check out how they handle it.
    Last edited by Ma'am; November 28th, 2019 at 05:16 AM.

  5. #5
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    Mar 2018
    People can say the most nonsensical bullsh*t to date, such as this.

    Don't listen to them. These people are standing in the same line as those who say a protagonist gotta be their gender/majority of the reader's gender so they can relate.

  6. #6
    There's probably a bit of crossover between editors and publishers. Such people don't work within the framework of artistic coherency, they work within the framework of "this graph says that if we put x element in, said book is 10% more likely to make its money back." It isn't an illegitimate perspective but it has very little to do with the actual quality of the work itself.
    Dead by Dawn!

  7. #7
    I think this may be something that's unique to YA.

    Plenty (most?) 'literary' novels are set in time periods that are not strictly modern, but adults tend to be less distracted by superficial variances than children, who tend to fixate on whether the protagonist(s) talk, dress, behave in a way that makes sense to them. Basically, most YA readers want the protagonists to in some way behave as analogs of themselves where adults are less likely to need that, which is why plenty of adult novels feature children as protagonists but very few children's novels feature adults as protagonists.

    To that degree, it makes sense, and the reactions on this thread are, well, reactionary. A child from 1960 is, to a child, more prone to resemble a more foreign creature (an adult, even, given their own parents would have been children in that time period) than a child set in a modern book. Sure there's ways of making it work. There are loopholes, say if it's a fantasy novel you can have the protagonists be children from medieval times. But it's still true that kids, all other aspects being equal, are going to prefer to read about kids who are more like them/their friends than not.

  8. #8
    I agree with the advice you got, once I wade through your perspective and get to what I think the original advice probably was. And please remember that if these are editors you've paid (I think).You've actively solicited their advice, so responses like "let them write their own story if they don't like yours" don't make a lot of sense. You've ASKED THEM how they think your story could be better. It's their job to tell you.

    As to why I think their advice is good? We're talking about setting. An unfamiliar setting will take effort/words to present in an effective way. If you're writing a historical novel, as one of your editors said, then of course your setting will be some other time in history and it's PART OF THE GENRE for you to put some effort into establishing the setting and making it rich and evocative. You put the effort in because readers of historical novels WANT to visit another time. That's what they're looking for. It's a FEATURE of an historical novel.

    But if you're not writing an historical novel, as it sounds like you're not, then being set in a different time is more a bug rather than a feature. That is, if you're not really committed to putting in the effort and making the setting sing, then you've distracted the reader with specifics of a date but haven't given them the payoff of getting to feel like they're immersed in a different time.

    In the case at hand, setting a book ten years ago is awkward because there aren't really enough differences to make it easy for the reader to be interested. Like, what features are there from 2010 that aren't still around in 2019? More people on Facebook, fewer on Instagram? Okay, but... that's not too interesting, really. Ten years ago is long enough in the past to feel distant, but not long enough to create nostalgia.

    Am I saying it's impossible to write a vivid historical novel from 2010? No, not really. It might be harder to market (because, again, no nostalgia for such recent events) but that doesn't mean it couldn't be an interesting book. But the people who've read your work, the people you SELECTED and, I believe, PAID to read your work? They're saying it's not working as is. They're suggesting a solution.

    Of course you don't have to take their advice. But if "so many" people are telling you that something about your work isn't working? I don't think you should dismiss their reactions as unreasoned "bias".

  9. #9
    Actually, only those editors commented on the setting. The readers who reviewed said nothing negative about the time setting. In fact, there was pretty much no reaction on the fact that the books are set in 2010. Most people enjoyed it, regardless.

  10. #10
    I feel that sometimes in the business people say the strangest things. I took a writing class, and the professor said for my story, that I should give the protagonist a love interest. However, this was not the kind of story where giving the protagonist a love interest would do anything for the story I felt, and I didn't know how I could fit one in, where it would do anything, without it seeming to be out of nowhere, with the plot I already had.

    I asked the professor can the protagonist not have a love interested, and I named some stories that did not have one. The professor said, if you want modern readers to find the story boring, then sure. But maybe when it comes to marketing, having things in that modern readers are looking for may be a good thing in some ways, and maybe there are points being made there?

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