Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anachronisms Aren't Just for Historicals

So as I've mentioned a time or thirty-seven, I'm working on a novel. I've been intermittently (usually very intermittently) working on this novel since 2005. And I've run into a curious problem: for a novel set in the present day, which isn't even really about technology, it's absolutely littered with anachronisms.

I'm an old Millennial (or perhaps Xennial... nah, that's dumb). DVDs didn't hit the scene until I was in high school. While the Internet certainly existed prior to 1997, I didn't know about it, and I didn't actually "buckle my seat belt and take a wild trip on the Information Superhighway" until the following year. I grew up in a small town in the Rust Belt which put me about three years behind the coastal elites when it came to cutting-edge technology.

My novel, likewise, takes place in a small town in the Rust Belt, present day. My character is only a few years younger than I was when I wrote the book. A lot of it is based on real life, okay? And even in 2005, there were still a lot of college students who didn't own cell phones. Most nineteen-year-olds still knew what a VHS tape was. The Internet was certainly more of a thing than it was when I was nineteen, but we didn't carry it in our pockets. Not in the Pittsburgh area, anyway. Social media was, uh, LiveJournal and Friendster. Texts cost a quarter to send so nobody did. It was a simpler time.

No Millennial can parse this image.

The novel is still set in the present day, except it's the present day of 2014, not the present day of 2005. Nine years shouldn't make that much of a difference, right? WRONG. It changes everything! I had to rewrite several sections of the book to allow for a cell phone, because even in a crappy Rust Belt small town, even a working-class nineteen-year-old will always have one, and it's going to have a data plan. The character has likely used the Internet her entire life, instead of it being introduced to her around age thirteen or so. Due to other factors, the main character cannot be aged up. Solution: many more references to cell phones (up from zero), some indication of the existence of social media, and a global find-and-replace on every instance of the word "tape." (It's been replaced with "synergy." People connect pieces of paper together with Scotch synergy.)

But even when I modernized a lot of the technology, there were still some anachronistic idioms that needed excising, which I didn't even see because again, I'm too goddamn old. Like describing the main character's vision as being like a videocassette that's been taped over too many times. Someone born in 1981 (or even 1986, which could roughly be construed as her original birth year) knows exactly what this means. Someone born in 1995? Not so much. And I actually had to research what bands "the kids" consider cool now, instead of allowing her to listen to the same music I did/do listen to.

Even though I updated the tech, I'm still not so sure I did a bang-up job of modernizing this novel. As an example, the main character is rather withdrawn and sullen for much of the book, but she never loses herself in the black hole of the Internet*, which is totally something I would have done as a withdrawn sullen older teen. She goes on walks or bike rides instead. Do teens do this now? I'm not sure they do, but she still does, because it's more interesting to take a character on a stroll than to say "well, she was depressed so she just read Tumblr for four hours." There isn't a sense of "constant connection" and most of the conversations still take place face-to-face. I did briefly consider setting the novel in the early aughts or even backtracking to the nineties, but that seemed like even more work and there was no good reason to set it in what is now the past.

So glad this rewrite is almost behind me. I'm also pretty sure that I don't want to write any more novels set in the current era whose characters are so much younger than me. But that's okay. The world still needs books with characters in their thirties, or books that take place in completely fabricated worlds, right?

*Speaking of black holes, there's a TV Tropes page for this phenomenon: Unintentional Period Piece. You have been warned!


  1. I feel ya! The same thing is going on with me...and it's hell to pitch to publishers right now...

  2. Thank you for your informative post. Personally I love old VHS tapes. Most of us have a huge collection of VHS tapes. What you think about the VHS tapes digitization. VHS to DVD transfer