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Olly Buckle

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My younger daughter gave me a volume of Oscar Wilde's fairy stories for Christmas, perspicacious young woman. The introduction contains a number of quotations among which,

"Nothing is quite so dangerous as being too modern; one is apt to grow old fashioned quite suddenly."

Now there is a warning to writers, have your character playing 'Minecraft' and maybe no-one will have heard of it next year. If you write for magazines it may not matter, if you wish to be immortal...

What should one avoid? What is eternal? How modern is too modern?
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
What should one avoid? What is eternal? How modern is too modern?

At one time O. Henry's twist ending stories were all the rage. They were a modern type of writing. Now, today, it's pretty difficult to get that type of story published. So I'd guess O. Henry's name will live on (as will many of his stories) but the work of those who try to write as O. Henry did (who try to write the one-line twist-ending story) won't be nearly as well-received. The time for the twist-ending story (modern in its time) has come and gone for most of us.

On the other hand, if a writer's talented enough, the one-liner twist ending story can probably live again -- but likely not to the extent that once- modern type of writing came to life for O. Henry. So that's my attempt to consider your question, Olly. Interesting to think about.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Avoid: Maybe writing a story about the pandemic, until we know the outcome.

Eternal: The good will prevail.

Too modern: Unless a period piece, any specific type of cellphone.
 
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luckyscars

WF Veterans
I always cringe at references to popular culture in modern settings, although I'm quite a fan of such references in historical settings. Snobbery, maybe. More likely, it's a difference in how such references are perceived. I enjoy references to technology in historical novels because (assuming done well) they show the writer has invested time in understanding the period and it brings it to life.

On the other hand, having a 2020's writer referencing stuff like Twitter, iPhones, Donald Trump...Coronavirus (?) all obviously have no intrigue attached and come across as the writer actually being unimaginative, that they are incorporating these things as lazy crutches and shortcuts to 'realism' assuming rather distastefully that everyone who lives now cares about or wants their reality identified by such things, which isn't necessarily the case, and that future readers will care (they likely will not care). There's not much utility in it either. Modern writers write modern settings as defaults and it can reliably be assumed every story is modern set unless stated otherwise. It usually comes across as amateurish filler.

So, yeah, I tend to avoid too many modern references like Minecraft unless it's either (1) Interesting (2) Super benign (3) A throwaway hardly anybody would notice. I definitely hate it when modern stories' plots hinge on lame stuff like cellphones and character conversations revolve around that stuff. Like, is that the best we can do?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Thank you Taylor, always difficult to know if you got it right with a woman's POV, Seems Lucky didn't agree about the phone story, " I definitely hate it when modern stories' plots hinge on lame stuff like cellphones and character conversations revolve around that stuff. Like, is that the best we can do?"
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I always cringe at references to popular culture in modern settings, although I'm quite a fan of such references in historical settings. Snobbery, maybe. More likely, it's a difference in how such references are perceived. I enjoy references to technology in historical novels because (assuming done well) they show the writer has invested time in understanding the period and it brings it to life.

I just finished a corporate thriller set in the Chicago Stockmarket prior to electronic trading. Traders stood in a pit and traded face to face writing down what they bought/sold on a card and it was all confirmed or rectified at the end of the day. A great basis for a story, the author wove a romance and murder around the collusion that took place on the floor. It was a good read to learn how the old exchange worked. I didn't however think she did a very good job of explaining how the dirty deals went down. The way she explained it, it didn't make sense. At least a few more sentences were needed. But it didn't really affect the story because you got the jist of it...and that what they were doing was illegal and cheated the customer.

Personally, when I pick up a novel and read the back blurb, I am looking for this type of thing, or anything that is technologically unusual. I mean why not learn about something when you are reading fiction.

In my WIP I cover a fairly modern period 1999-2000. For me, I experienced the technology of the day first hand, so it's easy to write about. But I can't take for granted that my reader will have any first hand knowledge. I will have to get someone from a younger generation to read it for understandability. Researching the period is one thing, but you must be able to portray it to someone who has not encountered the technology previously.

On the other hand, having a 2020's writer referencing stuff like Twitter, iPhones, Donald Trump...Coronavirus (?) all obviously have no intrigue attached and come across as the writer actually being unimaginative, that they are incorporating these things as lazy crutches and shortcuts to 'realism' assuming rather distastefully that everyone who lives now cares about or wants their reality identified by such things, which isn't necessarily the case, and that future readers will care (they likely will not care). There's not much utility in it either. Modern writers write modern settings as defaults and it can reliably be assumed every story is modern set unless stated otherwise. It usually comes across as amateurish filler.

I'm not sure what you mean by lazy crutches, or amateurish filler. Can you elaborate or give an example?

Twitter is a significant part of the modern era. The fact that there was a public hearing to establish if Jack Dorsey acted in good faith when he allowed certain politically leaning posts to be censored during an election could be a great story in itself.

And how can you write a modern setting without someone looking at their iphone(smartphone)? We have a tradition in our house that everyone gets a book under the tree, so that after breakfast everyone can read in unison. Last year, after Christmas day brunch, I glanced around the room and everyone was reading their phone! Smartphones have crept into our daily existence, how could you even write them out?

I do agree though that writing a politician into the story, without the story being about them, is treacherous. Is there some writing rule about this? We should add it to the other thread on rules.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Thank you Taylor, always difficult to know if you got it right with a woman's POV, Seems Lucky didn't agree about the phone story, " I definitely hate it when modern stories' plots hinge on lame stuff like cellphones and character conversations revolve around that stuff. Like, is that the best we can do?"

Yeah I picked up on that too! It's a pretty cool story. Maybe he's jealous...lol!!
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
Oops, too modern https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eXYwMkGmiQ

The good prevails makes me think of a Bob Hope gag. "Saw a John Wayne war movie, don't want to give anything away, but we win."
Olly, I assume that's you reading your story in the video. I enjoyed it on more than one level. First, I enjoyed the story itself. It was an interesting peek into the lives of two women and though it featured a cell phone, it was used to drive the story forward, not as a McGuffin. Second, your voice suits your voice. In other words, your reading voice fits your story voice. I listen to a lot of audio books while working and it's important the reader suits the story.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I'm not sure what you mean by lazy crutches, or amateurish filler. Can you elaborate or give an example?

Sure, any prolonged or unnecessary focus on modern stuff for no reason other than 'because it's modern, baby'. I think we know the kind of thing: A horror movie largely set on Facebook or a romance via Zoom conferencing or something. Chapters written via text message for no other reason other than to hammer home that this isn't some fusty old novel but something that's actually super cool, guys.

I think it's gimmicky. It makes me think of one of those insufferably cringeworthy efforts gung-ho grownups sometimes engage in to chase the lowest common denominator of 'da yooth', only to sacrifice their dignity for nothing but contempt when said 'yooth' quite rightly scowl it off as lame pandering. It's the creative director at some eminent national theater commissioning a rewrite of Hamlet in street slang. It's the Queen's Guard breaking centuries of tradition to breakdance. It's the London 2012 Olympic logo. It's people thinking that they need to include superficial nods toward things to be appealing...

When that happens, I don't think it works 90%+ of the time and, when it does work, it still doesn't strike me as especially interesting or clever, primarily because I don't think there's much about modern technology that is interesting or clever in the context of a story. This isn't the same as saying 'traditional everything, please', god knows, only that we all know what truly inventive style and substance looks like in fiction and it's rarely accomplished simply by cramming as many newfangled quirks and mentioning-of-stuff as possible.

Twitter is a significant part of the modern era. The fact that there was a public hearing to establish if Jack Dorsey acted in good faith when he allowed certain politically leaning posts to be censored during an election could be a great story in itself.

So what, though? I don't think most people actually find Twitter stuff interesting whatsoever.

Actually, I am pretty sure they don't. It seems super obvious that Twitter's importance is massively inflated. Only something like 20 some percent of adult Americans own a Twitter account and 90% of the content is by 10% of those users. Any reflection on recent history combined with a brief look at the data shows such sites as being the domain of mostly young, mostly privileged, mostly white narcissists who spend their time sounding off on shit that, with few notable exceptions, most grownups ignore. If Twitter and the like had any meaningful or lasting sway on popular culture, Kanye West would be President, Area 51 would be raided, and half the world would be vegan. To the extent such sites have any impact at all (and yeah, they do have some!) there's already books about it and, more improtantly, it already occupies a huge amount of our national conversation anyway. I don't think it's as fertile ground for fiction as people like to believe.

I mean, write what you like, of course. It's just that the idea of a story about Jack Dorsey and Twitter censorship makes me personally want to put my head in the nearest incinerator.....but, then again, one might aruge that's good enough reason to do it.

And how can you write a modern setting without someone looking at their iphone(smartphone)? We have a tradition in our house that everyone gets a book under the tree, so that after breakfast everyone can read in unison. Last year, after Christmas day brunch, I glanced around the room and everyone was reading their phone! Smartphones have crept into our daily existence, how could you even write them out?

Sorry, but I am confused. I never said anybody couldn't look at an iPhone.

I said: "I tend to avoid too many modern references like MinecraftI'unless it's either (1) Interesting (2) Super benign (3) A throwaway hardly anybody would notice. I definitely hate it when modern stories' plots hinge on lame stuff like cellphones and character conversations revolve around that stuff. Like, is that the best we can do?"

No, I don't care if characters look at an iPhone. I incorporate that stuff, too, sure. I care if the writer feels the desire, or need, to have a character look at an iPhone for entirely spurious and unnecessary reasons or if people start writing entire stories centered around iPhones for no other reason than 'that's our culture, man'. Nah, it's not our culture. It's an object, a tool, and, if we're going to write about tools as 'our culture', why not write about dildos? They, too, are very popular, very modern and have all kinds of functions and customizations. They are a cultural pillar! But now you're rolling your eyes, and I understand, because we don't want to say dildos should be the focal point of stories, intrinsic to its meaning, something that we want to use to 'speak to a modern readership', because that's weird and strange and funny and unpalatable. I simply don't see a difference. It's all boring and unnecessary.
 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
I was just thinking of P.G. Wodehouse and how he captured his generation so well and how that makes it COOL. Supposedly we know a lot of turn of the century slang that would have been lost if he hadn't captured it. Actually books that really really dig into their own time and show us that time can also have a timelessness. Jane Austen is this way as well. Charles Dickens. You kind of almost just want MORE of that time-- Little House on the Prairie.

So... but what IS the difference in maybe bringing in things that are going to make a book not stand the test of time? A example from movies... The Net... where it tried to make the internet seem scary when it was brand new. That seems silly at this time. Hmm. I can't think of more examples. It's not like Oscar Wilde doesn't have a point... and I think the example of "The Net" shows this. It was trying to jump a bit too fast on people's fears of the "new" I guess. I think there can be a danger with that with technology too maybe... like putting a scientist who has discovered how to create cold fusion (The Saint was a movie that did this in the 90's) and expecting that to be discovered soon and we are nowhere near and it just seems silly to watch now. Watching the long drawn-out internet scene from the first Mission Impossible is actually kind of fascinating as a relic at this point... I wouldn't change that one for the world. The green computer screens (dos system?) seen in Alien is kind of funny... but kind of cool too as a throw back. The art of projecting what might be a thing is interesting in Bradbury, kind of funny and interesting in Well's The Time Machine. I guess just don't count your chickens before they hatch too obviously? (I am trying to write something set 200 years in the future, hopefully it will just be interesting at some point as maybe some things are predicted correctly and others laughably no longer relevant.)

Actually it's really starting to bother me that movies aren't showing everyone wearing masks. I think Saturday Night Live should wear masks, for instance. I think it would be annoying to tell my grandkids about this time and not be able to pull up some movies with good examples.... maybe I'll make them watch this year's Borat... hehe. To me it would be good to show the actual struggles of our time... and why not?
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
I don't think the question is whether or not modern things should be included in story, but why and how.

One of the earmarks of the 90s was tabloid headlines. In fact, while reading this thread, it struck me how much Twitter posts are like tabloid headlines. Both are outrageous statements to get public attention.

This year, Analog magazine is celebrating 90 years of publication and each issue features a story from the past. The Jan/Feb issue published a story from the 1999 titled The Astronaut from Wyoming, a story about a kid born looking like the little grey aliens from Roswell. The author sprinkles tabloid headlines throughout the story. If they were simply there to be cool, they'd fall flat. Instead, the author uses them to say a lot with few words as well as make a social statement about the time. He also uses them to underscore the fact the kid is human.

SPACEBABY FORETOLD IN BIBLE!
Will He Start World War Three?

Brilliant!

A writer could use Twitter in a similar fashion. TV shows already use text messages as dialog within dialog.
 
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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Too modern: Unless a period piece, any specific type of cellphone.

This morning, my wife and I were watching an episode of a TV series filmed in 2006. It showed two cell phones. One was a flat model with the LCD display on the top half, and one was a flip-phone. I turned to her and remarked, "Can you believe we once had to cope using only those primitive things?"

One day we'll have a great grand child, and that child will be complaining about a feature on their phone. We'll tell them, "Listen, kid, we used to have cell phones you couldn't even talk to!"
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
This morning, my wife and I were watching an episode of a TV series filmed in 2006. It showed two cell phones. One was a flat model with the LCD display on the top half, and one was a flip-phone. I turned to her and remarked, "Can you believe we once had to cope using only those primitive things?"

One day we'll have a great grand child, and that child will be complaining about a feature on their phone. We'll tell them, "Listen, kid, we used to have cell phones you couldn't even talk to!"

So true!

I remember my first experience with a cell phone was when my boss bought the very first model, the Martin Cooper Motorolla. We went out for lunch and he stood it on the table. It was so big, it stood up on its end and had a huge antenna. When someone called and he answered it, it looked like he was talking into a shoe.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
So true!

I remember my first experience with a cell phone was when my boss bought the very first model, the Martin Cooper Motorolla. We went out for lunch and he stood it on the table. It was so big, it stood up on its end and had a huge antenna. When someone called and he answered it, it looked like he was talking into a shoe.

like Maxwell Smart?
 
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