Something that I’ve learned while writing stories over an extended period of time, is that times change. People change. Sometimes in drastic ways that make older versions of my original stories seem irrelevant or maybe even confusing to some of my younger readers. And it’s not really a ‘problem’ in any major way...but it’s a bit of a stumbling block that I’ve trained myself to pay attention to in my work, a try to avoid moving forward. After reading this little writing tip, hopefully you guys will learn to do the same.
What this is about is simply understanding that this moment in time isn’t meant to last in terms of music, movies, pop culture, slang, or anything else that seems so normal and mundane to us right now. Times are changing faster and faster all the time, and the written word isn’t something that was created to keep up. (Unless you want to go through the trouble of going back to update them every six to eight months, hehehe! Which I, personally...do not.) Like...remember when that brand new ‘Justin Bieber’ kid was so obscenely famous and had his pretty face plastered over every corner of the internet? Well, guess what? The high school aged kids who read your work right now? They may not even have any idea who he is, and the ones who do will look at stuff like that as an extremely outdated reference. It sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. So...if you’re writing a story and using Justin Bieber as a point of reference, a topic of conversation, or even as a punchline in a witty joke inserted into a friendly dialogue between characters...it’s not going to hit the same way now as it did when you first wrote it. There’s an obvious shelf life involved when it comes to immersing yourself in the current era that you’re writing in. And this is fine if you have a story that is completed all in one shot and is over and done with. But it can have an unraveling effect on a series that is written over a number of years. Life is constantly changing and evolving at a rate that is hard to keep up with. And I had to find out the hard way that it can wreck havoc on your whole story and force you to switch things up to have everything make sense if you plan to keep going forward. It’s a definite monkey wrench in the gears, and it’s something that you need to look out for, or possibly avoid altogether if you can.
So let’s talk about contemporary references, and how to use them.
When I first started writing online, there were a lot of things that I put into my stories that were comfortably settled into the current culture and my characters existed in a world that no longer exists. But now that I have been around for a while, I’m aware of how the world changes and evolves in ways that don’t fit my stories anymore. The biggest example of this would be my story “Arcade Junkie” (https://gayauthors.org/story/comicality/arcadejunkie) which is a story spinoff of the “New Kid In School” (https://gayauthors.org/story/comicality/newkidinschool) series...and the first time that I ever wrote a threesome between boys, by the way! Hehehe, but not the last! Anyway, it takes place in an actual ‘arcade’. I mean...sure, arcade still exist to a certain degree, but not in the same way that they used to. The culture changed, and all of us changed with us. So the idea of a cute boy meeting up with a couple of other cute boys in a dark room full of coin operated arcade games isn’t really something that a lot of younger Shackers or readers in general can relate to. That’s simply not a world that they grew up in, and it comes off as unfamiliar and out of touch. Which is not the way I want my stories to feel to people who read them.
You understand what I mean, right? I hope this doesn’t sound too weird.
It’s like...the stories that I started off writing were placed in a different era. And I’ve had discussions in my emails where it became evident that I occasionally fell out of the loop as to what was current and seen as a normal part of life. It goes beyond the fact that arcades don’t really exist anymore in the same way that they used to. The internet is different, the way people talk is different, the fashion is different. I see it, and I can easily update my current state of mind to match the sign of the times and adapt in ways that will keep things fresh and relatable for my readers at all times. BUT...what I can’t do is go back and correct some of the things that I created to build the origins of the story that I’m trying to tell without having it look awkward and weird. That can be a problem. And every author should pay attention to stuff like this so their projects don’t end up feeling dated and out of place. To a degree...there really isn’t a way to avoid this obstacle in writing contemporary fiction...but it’s commendable to know that you tried. Hehehe!
So what is contemporary fiction? Well...check out this movie trailer for the movie, “Wargames”, with Matthew Broderick. Hehehe, awesome movie, by the way, if you’ve never seen it. But look at the computers, the ‘phone modem’, the whole ‘Cold War’ scare that was going on in that movie. This was cutting edge and extremely relatable when it was first released, and while the concept of it all has aged well...the technology and the references haven’t. They’re really outdated now. The idea that you could use such a rugged home computer to somehow ‘hack’ into the nuclear launch protocols for the US government seems like a ridiculous premise in this day and age. It just wouldn’t work in today’s market without some serious tweaking and a much more sophisticated view of the internet and the capabilities of your average high school student gaining access to much of anything online, much less nuclear war initiatives! But...for the time, it worked. And everybody was cool with that.
Watch these clips, and ask yourself...if this movie was coming out this year...would it be at all believable to you? I mean...really? Would it even make sense?
What I’ve come to understand is that it’s sometimes to my advantage to avoid some of those ‘currentlt current’ references that may not be relevant in future chapters, depending on how long it takes me to write it. And, let’s be honest...it takes me an ice age to do just about anything! Hehehe! So it’s safe to say that I should probably keep this in mind all the time!
The earlier stories or chapters that I wrote don’t exist in a time period that people can really understand anymore. Writing stories like “A Class By Himself” (https://gayauthors.org/story/comicality/aclassbyhimself) or “Jesse-101” (https://gayauthors.org/story/comicality/jessie-101onlinecelebrity) has some wiggle room, but they’ve still taught me to pay more attention to the rapidly changing landscape that I’m working with, and maybe cut some of my references down a bit, making them more vague and less time sensitive so that people can read stories years from now and not run into the barrier of weirdness that they may not grasp right away. If that makes sense.
I realize that it’s kind of hard to picture a world where all of the things that you know and love, the music you listen to, the movies you’ve seen, the verbal expressions that you use when you’re having a good time with your friends, will someday be seen as unnatural or unfamiliar by a younger generation. But it will happen. Trust me. Hehehe! And this new generation will see it happen to them and the things that they enjoy someday as well. It’s the circle of life, I suppose.
BUT...your writing is meant to be timeless. Right? Or is that even possible? I’d ike to think that it is to a certain degree. Give a sense of immortality to your work by shifting the main focus of your story towards the fundamental ideas and emotions that we all feel and have experienced at some point in all of our lives. I can remember reading “Romeo And Juliette” in junior high, and it was practically in a whole different language from what I was used to reading. So for that story, as well as other works by Shakespeare, we had to have daily discussions in our class to sort of decode everything so that could translate the text into something that we could better absorb and understand. When the play was originally written and being performed for audiences...I’m sure that there was no translation needed at all. Why would there be? That was the sign of the times. However, even though it didn’t go back as far and wasn’t as poetically scripted...I had no trouble at all reading books like “Lord Of The Flies”, “Huckleberry Finn”, or “Of Mice And Men”. They were all written and completed before my time as well...but there was something in those books that I felt was more connected to adventure, betrayal, war, compulsion, and emotions that I could not only understand but developed meaning for and ended up being able to more closely relate to by the time I was finished.
Yeah. I was a binge reader, school assignments be damned. Hehehe!
So, why is that? Because those stories really spoke to my heart in terms that didn’t feel as though they were coming from another world at the time. Naturally, through our class discussions, I was better able to grasp “Romeo And Juliette” concept of forbidden love and everything...but again it was something that speaks to everybody’s heart at one time or another. That desperation, the nervousness, the longing, the swooning infatuation...I get it. Most people do. And it doesn’t matter what era of time it takes place in. The human condition has certain elements that continue on from generation to generation, and I make that my concentration more times than not. I might still toss in a little reference here and there, but now I do it as more of a tongue in cheek sort of thing than anything of importance.
For example, there were quite a couple of my earlier stories that I wrote in a scene that took place in a public arcade. Now...growing up, arcades were everywhere. And they were always full, as they were super popular. So if you see some of my earlier chapters, chances are you’re going to find references to stand alone arcades somewhere in there. And then...they all kind of closed down and disappeared for a while. Then, you could find a few of them at your local movie theater or in one of those places with crane games and skeeball...and now they’re sort of making a comeback. But there was definitely a time when the idea of my characters getting together at an arcade seemed a bit weird. And I can totally understand that.
Hehehe, going back, I can imagine how cool it would be to have this gigantic mega event where all of these kids and adults would get together in a rabid crowd of fans to watch a kid play...Super Mario on a large screen? Ummm...ok! LOL! It looks so strange to me now! And a few years later, even the arcade in “Terminator 2” is pretty much a nonexistent thing anymore...
But it’s not just arcades. It’s comic book stores (Which are still around, but a lot more rare now), certain club atmospheres, and certain character interactions. When I started writing, every single kid on the planet had an iPhone and texting capabilities. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook...at one point I was writing about there was no way that one of my characters could afford a laptop for school. Of course, laptops are much cheaper than they used to be...but they weren’t back then. Heck, “Billy Chase” works at a music store, selling CDs and DVDs! That’s not really a thing anymore either, but I’m keeping it in the story because it’s fun for me. Hehehe! And it’s relevant towards some of the things that “Billy” is going to learn in future chapters. So there.
Basically...I’m in the process of teaching myself to maybe pull back a little bit on the cultural reference that I was using so casually before, and focus more on the timeless parts of the emotion and relatability of the feelings that I’m trying to bring forth with the story that I want to tell. Sometimes, ‘current’ doesn’t mean hip or in touch for much longer than a year or two before that vibe begins to fade away. Eventually vanish completely.
This isn’t a HUGE issue for many writers, but I think that it’s something that all authors should maybe think about from time to time. We all grow, we all change, and we adapt to new current times...but our stories don’t. And, let’s be honest...some older ideas and perspectives simply don’t age well on the written page. I’ll just leave it at that. Hehehe!
Hope this little bit of food for thought will help you guys out with any current or future projects that you’ve got in the works. Learn every lesson you can, and keep them in the back of your mind in case you need to draw them out later. Cool?
Love you lots! And I’ll seezya soon!