Writing Tips: Technology

I promised I’d post more writing tips today, and I am following through with that promise. (Thank you for being patient with my hectic schedule.) So on to it:

I wrote Minutes Before Sunset (the entire trilogy actually) when I was in high school (2005-2009) so I’ve had some funny things happen to me during the current editing process that I thought would make for an interesting and fun post: technology. It’s a gift as much as it’s a curse. It’s constantly changing, and it’s changing rapidly, and if you’re lucky, you’re able to keep up with the latest and greatest. I have to admit that I’m not one of these people. I didn’t get my first touchscreen until a year or two ago, and I was really sad to see my flip phone go. (Who doesn’t enjoy the little slam of the plastic device when you hang up?) But I’ve found out something about my characters from 2005: they also miss this technology.

In the original version of Minutes Before Sunset, I’ve come across scenes and scenes of technology that have since been outdated. Here’s just a little list:

  • Flip cellphones, let alone who carries them.
  • AIM (AOL Instant Messager)
  • No Facebook, Twitter, etc. (Now I have to clarify Facebook did exist at the time I was writing this, but it was strictly for college students, and my young-adult characters are in high school)
  • Laws have changed in the Kansas setting (now, this isn’t technology, but I find it to be easily adapted into what I’m going to talk about)

I had to deal with this scenes with care. How was I going to get my characters to communicate over AIM or any other social media? And laws. They’ve altered dramatically since I was 14, and now the lives of my characters are altered as well. This is where I’m faced with a decision: do I use the current technology, knowing it will also be outdated in a year (or maybe a few months) or do I find a way around using it completely?

I went with a mixture of both, and this is where the writing tips come in. Granted, please keep in mind that using today’s technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it gets outdated; however, I want readers to be able to relate to it for years instead of weeks, so I decided to use it as little as possible. This was a personal decision and not necessarily the right one for everyone who writes. I’m merely sharing my solution as a way to bring this debate of technology dependence to light:

1. Cell phones: When I was writing A Timely Death trilogy, most of my friends in high school didn’t have cell phones. It wasn’t standard. But, in 2013, most young children have them, so I couldn’t completely take them away. They had to be present, but I didn’t want to rely on them. If you’ve read Minutes Before Sunset, you know my protagonist, Jessica, has a bad habit of forgetting to take her cell phone wherever she goes (to the horror of her parents and friends trying to reach her) and Eric doesn’t need one (although he has one that he barely pays attention to. He has telepathy with other Dark members, after all–though there is one scene he uses it at the beginning.) You will, however, see Crystal, Robb, and other characters flip through theirs.

2. Social Media: So Facebook is used every day by millions of people. Same with Twitter. But MySpace was once used and so was Xanga, and they are practically as obsolete as AIM. I was so frustrated with this that I knew I didn’t want to have to deal with it again. This is why I cut AIM scenes out completely, incorporating them elsewhere. I left out Facebook and Twitter, and I don’t even regard it as something that exists. This was completely a moral decision for me: I cut it out on the question of why should I bring this up as an importance to teens? I want young adults to spend more time outside (or reading) and putting an emphasis on social media didn’t sit well with me any longer.

3. Laws: It’s hard to guess what will change. I’m sure there are books out there with a kid texting and driving, and look how much that has changed (for the best, of course.) I can’t guess what my setting (a small town in Kansas) will be like years from now, but I can adjust to what it is like living in Kansas now. For instance, I had a restricted license when I was 15. It was 2006, but the laws changed in 2010, and my characters’ lives had to as well. Originally, they all had licenses they used on a frequent basis. Although most of my characters still have a license or a permit, Eric, Camille, and Robb are the three who use it frequently. And the smoking. That was a big law change here, and the smokey bar, (spoiler) something you’ll see in Seconds Before Sunrise, is no longer smokey until you step outside where it is allowed.

As I said, it’s hard to guess what will change, but so is technology, and we, as writers, have to edit with care in regards to our characters and setting. 

So here’s a writing prompt: go back and read something you wrote a long time ago. Search for aspects of life that might have changed over the years. Is it something small or something that changed overall lifestyles? How can you adapt to this?

Have you used technology in your stories? How do you feel about it changing as rapidly as it does, and how does it affect your style of writing? I’d love to hear other writer’s stories when it comes to this ever-changing subject. Comment below!


20 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Technology

  1. it maybe because during the day, in my secret identity I work as a propeller head at a corporate office, making computers around the world play nice. But I have a no love for technology. I keep what ever descriptions to a minimum, and only acknowledge it when I absolutely have to. that way when replaces the smart phones that are ubiquitous around the world at the moment, my stories won’t become dated. of course its also an option to use a specific date and time when you write to avoid that issue, but you replace it with the “they didn’t have back in that time period.

  2. Reblogged this on magdalena vandenberg and commented:
    Shannon’s Blog of weaving today’s technology into stories got me thinking about what’s relevant today maybe obsolete tomorrow.
    I’ve used email and text messaging references in my book and now I can see, if I want my story to stand the test of time changes are needed.
    I’m still chugging my way through the rewrite of my story, so it’s another change I’ll happily add to my growing list.

  3. Great post! Talk about timing…I’ve used technology references in my book, and now you’ve got me thinking. The last thing I want is for my book to deemed old fashioned & a fuddy duddy in ten years time! I’ve reblogged it, and thanks for sharing your techno gems

    1. I’m glad 😀 And thank you for sharing. That is very kind. It’s funny how it took an experience for me to realize the technology thing myself, but it sounds like many have been the same boat as me.

      1. I hadn’t considered the change in technology aspect of my story. As my main character is a current-day sixty-something hippie-type who has a rudimentary understanding of computers/internet and refuses to own a cell phone (much like me) it doesn’t really apply. I must watch some of the other characters’ references though.

  4. I keep technology related to the timeline of my story, making sure not to include things that wouldn’t exist at that point in time. You can also establish your own technology and concepts, it is your world after all.

    So maybe you can establish or imply what year it is, or create your own technology and let readers figure out the purpose based on use, and that way you wouldn’t have to worry about what’s popular in current times.

  5. I ran into this problem just last night…I was reading through an old story I started writing seven or eight years ago in college and came across all of these references to xangas, since they were so popular then. I’m thinking of working on the story some more but will definitely have to change up the xanga sections.

    Thanks for your interesting post!

  6. It’s a big problem for me, too – especially since my first novel was finished in the early 90s! The teenagers of it were in a completely different reality from our current one. Interestingly enough, my most recent blog post, from Sep 1, is on pretty much the same theme, although more the social implications than the tech per se. I’m honestly not trying to hijack traffic or anything, it would just be a bit redundant to try to add my thoughts on it here as well.

    It’s a big problem, with how rapidly everything changes (oh, and I miss my flip-top cellphone too). Since trying to stay up to date would mean virtually constant re-writes of everything as tech and laws and everything else change so rapidly, which would make finding time for writing anything new a tad tricky, I’ve resigned myself to having outdated tech in my older work, and just hoping that older readers remember it and younger ones can figure it out.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and your decision. I’m off to check out your article on it now! It’ll be interesting how technology changes in the next ten years, seeing as how fast it is changing now.

  7. Shannon – first, thanks for following me at Skylark Writing Studio…Second, you’ve hit on a topic here that I struggle with and have even taken to setting my novels pre-high tech just to avoid having to include it in the story. I prefer low (old) tech and nothing’s quite as glamorous as an old French phone with a dial!! I write another blog all about technology…http:technologyroadtrip.wordpress.com Next time I write, I’ll include a link to your site.

    All best,

    1. Molly,
      I’m glad we have something in common! I agree. I think older technology is glamorous. It’s strange to think that maybe modern technology might be “glamorous” one day too. And I appreciate the link. You’re very kind.

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