Monday 19 August 2013

Dating Stories - The Creative Process

Dating Stories

One of the problems of writing a novel is that it's not something that you just do and then release. Even if you're an indie author and self published, there is still a pretty extensive after process to go through before you can put the work out there in the world. So, no matter what you write in fiction, there is always going to be some dating of the stories. I guess what I should say is when you write, because if it's set in the past, time moving forward will have little effect. However, if you're like me and write in the present (or not too distant future) you'll always find that by the time you get the book on the shelves, there's going to be some out dated parts and dealing with that is what this piece is about.

When I wrote BLACKOUT, it was 2001, I was nineteen and I was finished in ten days. Of course, even though I wrote quickly and felt that the story was finished, it still took four years for it to be published. I didn't stop writing though, even though I had what I needed to approach publishers, I wanted to keep writing and that's what I did. I started the first DYING THOUGHTS book shortly after and of course, despite time moving forward and the book one not being out until 2011, things had certainly changed in the world.

Tara and Kaolin didn't have mobile phones in the first book. There were some people who did, other teens and such, but they weren't as big a thing in 2001 as they are now. Now, pretty much everyone older than nine has a mobile phone and constantly texts each other. Especially those who are at school. Facebook wasn't a thing either, nor twitter and the other social networks that came afterwards. So, looking at that first DYING THOUGHTS book, you would probably think that I messed up pretty bad (or that Tara's Dad was unusually strict) when it became obvious that social networking was not the way Tara and Kaolin kept in touch online. I know that now, in 2013, pretty much everyone has a Facebook and Twitter and so on. Also, with Tara's Dad being a former pop star, you'd also think that it was strange that he didn't have a page dedicated to updates about him. That's the problem with time and writing, you can capture a moment on paper, but by the time you've managed to get it to the point of showing other people - namely your readers - time has moved forward. It stands still for no one.

So, what do you do? There are a few ways to get around obviously dating your work. One is to be vague about the time period it occurs during. When I was published, Facebook and all the other wonders still were only just taking off (if they existed at all) and so in the beginning, it wasn't a problem because the people reading it wouldn't realise it was that out of date. However, as time has moved forward, it has become more and more obvious that Tara, Kaolin, Tally and the others are in a different time period than the readers of today are. With some of my books it doesn't matter, they are standalone and they rarely mention the year in which they are set. I know that a couple do, and some of the information in them, despite there being no date, points to a certain time, it is an unavoidable draw back. Novels don't write themselves and life gets in the way for a lot of writers, meaning that they are unable to bang them out, edit and publish before anyone is any the wiser as to the year in which their story is set. A good example of this is Sue Grafton's ALPHABET SERIES, she writes one book a year and since "W is for Wasted" is out sometime in 2013, it should be obvious to anyone capable of Maths, that she started writing in the early 1980's. Her books are dated, and will stay dated, because when you write a series, you can't move them forward in time unless you want to have huge gaps between one book and the next.

Don't get me wrong, it can be done. I know that Agatha Christie wrote a series of books that aged with the rest of the world. Her characters would grow old as time passed, rather than being trapped within the pages, to grow only when the spotlight was on them. However, there were, as I said, huge gaps between stories, all dependent on how long it took for a book to be finished and released. It works well for her work, but for some writers, like myself and Sue Grafton, we want the time to be a short few weeks or months between stories. This leads to our work being outdated in a short space of time. Especially when you consider just how fast technology changes these days.

As with a lot of things, some works will age better than others. Agatha Christie is well known throughout the world and although she wrote about a different time, people still enjoy to dip in and out of the worlds she created. I feel the same can be said for Sue Grafton's work. Kinsey Milhone is known across the world and popular to boot. You could probably say that, with those two writers in mind, that dating a story is not a bad thing and it isn't. However, sometimes taking out a dated reference (like a movie which may have been all the talk when you wrote the book, but is now long since released) can ease the process of when the story is set. If it weren't for the fact that a girl like Tara would be on Facebook, then the DYING THOUGHTS series may not seem that dated.

It's little tricks like that, or you can go the other way and purposefully set it in a time period and plan for it to be out dated. Choosing when to set your story is a completely different process (found here) and it's all about what works for you. You have to be ready to take out references that date the story if it's not something you wish to be obvious. Yet, you need to remember that once written down and published, everything eventually goes out of date. It's the natural process. So, try not to worry too much about your work becoming out dated, it happens to us all and it shouldn't take anything away from the story you are trying to tell. As always though, your mileage may vary.

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