Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting Real

Ever noticed how the 'reality' of contemporary fiction doesn't often directly reflect – for want of a better word – 'real' reality?

Okay, so that's a bit of a broad question. We know that it's FICTION, I'm not talking about the strange propensity of all bomb diffusing to be successful with only one second on the clock, or the way the heroine/hero saves the day at the last moment, or even the serendipity of their meeting at all.(By the way, the superhuman, awesome writer Terry Pratchett uses this in his books as the it's-a-million-to-one-shot-but-it-might-just-work. Whoever heard of a last minute, desperate 876 to one shot coming off?)

No, what sparked this train of thought was the fact that on Saturday morning I was thinking I wanted a bit of a rest from social networking and being 'out there'. It happens once in a while, the constant urge to be connected fades and I just want to retreat for a few days and recharge my batteries. Noting serious, nothing sinister, but it made me wonder – why don't my characters feel the same way sometimes?

Then I realised that none of my characters (at least, at the moment) use Twitter, or share Farmville watering duties on Facebook, or blog, or even show withdrawal symptoms if they're separated from the BlackBerry.


I remember my first book's original draft showed nary a sign of a mobile phone, either. Okay, so they're essentially in hiding for most of the book, but still. The second... well, they're struggling to survive in the Sahara for a good part of the story, so I'll acquit them. But you don't find a secondary character googling seasonal weather in the Western Sahara or texting to hero to check he's remembered the passports.

In the book I'm working on at the moment, Google does crop up. There's plenty of mobiles, a netbook or two (and incidentally a death-ray and an earthquake machine, but that's beside the point), but still they're not tweeting requests for help with clues, or letting their family know what they ate for supper on Facebook. I can't say I've read many mainstream, popular books which include reference to the social networking sites, either.

Is it because technology, and social networking, moves so fast, and publishing so slow, that books are always a little behind the times? Or is it because we WANT fiction to be a little other-worldy – our world, but not quite our world.

Or am I just a closet luddite?

What do you think?

Don't forget to come back on Thursday, for Pia's next post.


  1. Excellent point!

    I also include mobiles/cellphones, Google and netbooks plus an advanced form of VOIP and interpersonal communicators but nobody in my stories has time to go on Twitter!

    I think that's the thing; my protagonist's story has to move on at a smart pace, so she can't sit around tweeting.

    I guess it depends on the context and plot of your story...

  2. Strange, but I've never thought about that before, Anna! But maybe including gadgets more is a "guy" thing? I'm not saying girls can't write thrillers with techie stuff in them, but guys tend to be more fixated with things like that. They always want the latest version of everything, whereas I'm happy with for example an older mobile as long as it works. And when I bought my car there were three versions - standard, souped up and one with extra gadgets. The last was quite clearly not aimed at me, but was full of "boy's toys"!
    Since I write historicals though, I guess I don't need to worry about it .

  3. PS. There was meant to be a smiley face after that last sentence, but somehow it fell off! :)

  4. Ooo good subject! I have been struggling with this in my current book. Don't want it to date too quickly but also don't want to ignore internet/mobiles/social networking completely. Which is why I have decided that wifi, 3G, internet etc are impossible in area have set the book. This actually works as a good plot point as well.

  5. Thanks for bringing this up, Anna. I've thought about this a lot - especially in reference to a story that's percolating in my head. Part of it, I think, is that in order for some adventure/suspense plots to work the characters have to be in a remote setting, disconnected from their normal, daily routine. If they can just get on their cell phone and say, I'm lost - come and get me, the adventure goes out the window.

    Technology can come in handy though, if the characters need to research something quickly, that iphone could be whipped out in the middle of tense standoff. Or a hasty, amusing remark could be tweeted while the protagonist is knee deep in mud and sinking fast.

    I guess it comes down to whatever works to make the story you are telling work - characters might need to forget to charge their devices or be out of signal range in order to get into a predicament, or the plot could be advanced by all the tweeting and instant messaging the characters are involved in.

    I do think that for some, myself included, we want our fiction to be something "other" as you suggest.

  6. Great point, Alison - pace is somewhat slowed if people stop to tweet!

    Yes, I guess twitter is less crucial for your characters, Christina! LOL! But you're right, maybe the technology just isn't that important to our main readership?

    I love that as a plot point (and a helpful device) Biddy! I think that need for isolation in the story also relates to Sofie's point...

    Sofie, now I've been thinking of it, I believe you're completely right about suspense plots requiring characters to be removed from their usual routine. My stories tend to be about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, so I suppose that's part of it.

    I think one of the reasons I'm wrestling with this is that in my current work in progress, there are three secondary characters who are students - they're bright and connected with enquiring minds, and it seems to me they'd be the type to use social networking, but so far I covered that. I'm still not sure if it needs to be added, but I'm sure as I spend more time with them, it'll become clear.

  7. I think it might be more about not wanting to date your writing. Things move so quickly these days that first draft 'technology' can be obsolete by the time the polished version is ready to be submitted.

    I have one story where the lead has a phone and a pda in the first draft, now she would have a smartphone.

    That said, another story has the lead character doing a google search.

  8. Good point, winklewitch. Certainly when my second book was written, I'd never heard of Twitter! Definitely take your point about phones/smartphones. And what the heck is an Android phone??!

    Thanks for commenting. :-)

  9. I like this post Anna L.

    I've often felt annoyed with books where there was an obvious lack of communication between the hero and heroine which could have easily been solved with a text or email. I think books set in the present should consider that characters will most likely communicate by mobile/email.

    On the other hand I can't think how I'd fit in twitter and facebook in my stories even if they do take up an enormous part of my life!

    Someone on Twitter (Kate Johnson) mentioned the other day they were reviewing a previous manuscript and they'd updated it with a smartphone instead of a cybercafe.

  10. Thanks Sarah, I was just about to mention that! I'd written that my heroine, who is on the run, has just acquired a new phone, but she keeps running in and out of internet cafes. can tell it was written five or six years ago, can't you? Even I can go online with my not-very-sophisticated phone! I gave her a 'smartphone' and hoped that in a few years the technology won't have moved on so much that it'll be embarrassing to read.

    But then as regards things moving fast: we all know publishing moves slowly, and that a book written now might not be published for two years. Two years ago, who'd heard of Twitter?

    There was a brilliant spoof of 24 a while back, set in the 1990s, with Jack Bauer constantly running outside to a payphone because the landline was occupied with an internet connection which screeched at him whenever he picked up the phone. It's on YouTube somewhere.

    (And the Million-to-one-shot where they have the lengthen the odds-- Guards, Guards!, am I right?

  11. Yes, Sarah, in this age of instant communication, it's even more frustrating when the hero and heroine's conflict is about not TALKING to each other! And I love Kate Johnson's updating - smart (no pun intended).

    Oh, and speak of the devil! Hi Kate! :-D Yes, the time lag in publishing is very worrying when you're trying to be of the moment (admittedly, I don't try very hard at this - it would be a short trip to insanity for me, I think!). LOL - it's not so long ago we actually managed WITHOUT instant communication. Although I can't easily remember what that was like, now....

    And yes - Guards, Guards! of course... I love how it's an often-recurring point in his books. But then, he is a genius and a philosopher, to my mind.