Writing

Writing for Tomorrow’s Readers (or, talking Betamax in a Blu-ray World)

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Last month, The Huffington Post ran the piece, You’re Out: 20 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade.  The list is interesting, and a little bit sad, too.  Who wants to admit they’re old enough to have witnessed (perhaps with giddy anticipation) the arrival of some of these items that are already meeting an early grave?  The list spans many categories, from technology (sigh, R.I.P. beloved VHS),  to the less tangible like separating work and personal lives, and my favorite…forgetting — as in, never escaping the permanent nature of our sometimes inappropriate digital footmarks.  (Remember when you posted that “funny” picture inspired by a bottle of tequila and a tube of Super Glue and then went home and drunk tweeted about it?  So, does the rest of the world, fool.)

The article also prompted a post by Stacy Johnson called, Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know, where she includes her take on the list, and adds a few items of her own.  You should definitely check it out, along with its 7,000+ comments — it appears many people in the world only recognize tongue-in-cheek when it’s the kind encountered in an overly enthusiastic game of Seven Minutes in Heaven.

As a writer, as a storyteller, I found both of these posts fascinating.  When writing contemporary fiction (especially for children), there’s always some question of deciding which technologies, slang phrases, and “current” trends to include.  All could become out-dated, well…tomorrow, making your work sound old-fashioned, or worse, irrelevant to your reader.  I mean, thank goodness (and Fonzie) “cool” still means cool!

Another point to consider is the continuing evolution of how we gain knowledge.  No longer are trips to the library required when we have Smartphones and computers at the ready.  Middle grade readers may not understand a story world where immediate contact is not the norm.  Plot points which used to shout out, “Hey…this is suspenseful!”  may seem unrealistic.  Couldn’t they have just looked that up on Wiki? the young reader might ask in response to an adventure involving a couple of super-sleuthing peers.  Or, Why don’t they just track them with their GPS?  

Yes, times are always a-changin’, and no matter which decade has been welcomed, writers face the dilemma of how to keep our writing authentic for the current day, yet still give it staying power for the future.  How do we connect with young readers whose world may be Betamax to Blu-ray different from the one we lived in?

Thankfully, some things never change.  There will always be stories of family.  Hardship.  Love.  Laughter.  The delight of a good surprise, and the thrill of being taken to lands unknown will never get old. 

As writers, we beg the reader to turn the page.  To learn.  To find out.  And, we’ll keep at it for those born today, and the next year, and the year after that.  Good story-telling can span the buggy to rocket centuries. 

We may just have to work a little harder to ensure our readers stick around for the ride.

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

You may also like, Writing in a Phone Booth-free World, by Erika Marks

29 thoughts on “Writing for Tomorrow’s Readers (or, talking Betamax in a Blu-ray World)”

  1. Wow, good post Amanda. We are definitely losing things. As Hema P. pointed out: “2011 – just the name sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it?” (And no, I wasn’t hired to plug her blog!!! :)) We are definitely living in the space-age.

    That’s what makes the genre I’m writing in—which I call Radio Glory—so unique, I think. It’s where we would be if technology took off in a different direction back in 1950. So it’s a world where they would still write hand-written letters, use the telephone & radio, and travel around in jeeps rather than zipping around in hybrids & sippin’ down Wikipedia on smartphones etc.

    It is a shame that we are losing these things which lend such a sense of limitations to the world. 😦

    “The delight of a good surprise, and the thrill of being taken to lands unknown will never get old.” Well, travel may get old if we could go to a foreign land in the blink of an eye for fifty cents, might the day of teleportation ever come. Just an idea.

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    1. Thanks for your response, J.P. Love the sound of “Radio Glory.” Yup, the changing world does change the way we write (and think and live).

      I bet some people would argue that many limitations will always remain, but thankfully, the art of storytelling is limitless.

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  2. I agree that people had a little difficulty recognizing the tongue-in-cheek (nice one, btw) on that article. I also think some of the lists are a little alarmist. I really don’t think books are going to disappear. And the whole separation of work/life?? Oh, I think that will come back into vogue when the 80 million Millennials get to be over 30-35. It’s much easier to buy into that ‘always on’ mentality when you’re twentysomething.

    Of course, I’m about to go buy an alarm clock. One that does nothing else. Because at first, all we needed were our smartphones — but, wait, now we’re not supposed to sleep with email near our heads? The more things change…

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    1. I still have my same alarm clock from my high school days, and is suits me fine. 😉

      Yes, I think some of the items on her list were over the top, but that’s the fun of making lists of that sort I think…let’s get people crazy and talking. Or, just talking crazy talk.

      Thanks always for your insightful comments, Wopro~

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  3. I think things are changing at a faster rate now, but I’ll bet people in all centuries people have been noticing how things were changing. Without a doubt, the very ways we communicate have changed dramatically, although I don’t know if as dramatically as they did with the introduction of the written word, and then the book, and then the invention of the printing press that brought books to the masses.

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  4. Amanda, cool post. LOL I decided to read Harlan Coben and started with his first Myron Bolitar novel, set in 1992. hahahaha It was hilarious to read about him having no ‘car phone’ and needed to find a 7-11 for a pay phone. It slowed everything down as we are so used to instant technology and he had to work just to do his sports agent/PI job.

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  5. Great post. Each year I realize another former staple of life that my college students no longer recognize. College students! It’s one thing to not get all my sweet 80s references but the fact that I can now “teach” about 9/11 because college freshman were in 3rd grade is surreal.
    I also think a lot about the writing aspect of changing times as you’ve described. In fact, A short while back I wrote an article about certain movie plots that would not fly anymore because of new tech and toys (http://t.co/mx9aZvm). Readers pitched in some great thoughts too. I think you’ve got a tweetworthy post here!

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    1. I loved your post Clay, and thanks for the RT! It’s funny, because I often think of myself as college-aged…until I talk to a college student and realize that they think I’m ancient. Hmmm….

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  6. Hi Amanda–thanks so much for the link AND this great post, full of much needed chuckles today.

    I still find myself setting my stories in places/time where the introduction of certain technologies remain uncertain (Nope. Cell phones don’t work out here. Problem solved.) And I can’t count the times my husband comes home from teaching and reveals yet another reference he tossed out innocently to his students only to have them look at him blank-faced.

    I agree that we will always have the common ground in the themes of love, family, etc, as you point out. And maybe that’s way I’m always drawn to those universal subjects (as we all are, I suspect)–but, that said, I do wonder how long I can get away with the whole no-service excuse:)…

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    1. Hi Erika — The visual of your phone booth post immediately came to mind while I was writing this one, so I had to link up. It’s one of my favorites.

      I think as long as a writer writes in a believable way, the reader will accept the circumstances and limitations. And, of course it has to be one heck of a story. So, you should have no worries 🙂

      Thanks for your comments~

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      1. I ran across this quote today while looking for a “book quote” to put on our store Fan Page…it reminded me of this post:

        “What makes a book great, a so-called classic, is its quality of always being modern, of its author, though he be long dead, continuing to speak to each new generation.” Lawrence Clark Powell

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  7. Great post, Amanda. I understand the idea of the willful suspension of disbelief, but it drives me nuts when I’m reading a book or watching a movie and there’s something that’s just a few years out of date, like phone booths or failing to Google a new boyfriend or girlfriend. It just smacks of lazy writing. It’s akin to what Roger Ebert calls the Idiot Plot, which is when the story would be over in 2 minutes if all the characters weren’t idiots.

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  8. I had an English teacher that always claimed “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” was the worst name for a book she’d ever heard because it could never withstand the test of time.

    As proof, even though she told this story repeatedly, I’m not sure I just got the name of that book right.

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  9. It’s sad and a little scary to realize how much has changed just in my lifetime. As in most things, there’s good and bad in that. It’s fantastic to have so much information at your fingertips, but being “always on” can be stressful.

    However, I think it’s interesting how the twenty/thirty-somethings of today are already so nostalgic. I wonder if life isn’t moving so fast now, they didn’t have time to really live it the first time around.

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    1. Hi Linda — You make an interesting point. Maybe life *is* moving faster, or maybe it’s because twenty/thirty-somethings are on the brink of the next step: getting married, having kids, new careers, etc., that makes them/us reflect more, though I suppose there is a “next big step” for every age…

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  10. Yesterday the kids found something which had ‘Made in West Germany’ printed on it.
    At 6 & 8 they just about realise that Obama is US president & Cameron PM; for them the Cold War is as long ago as the Middle Ages.
    The era of Thatcher, Reagan, Greenham Common, Glasnost & Perstroika is now part of the History curriculum.

    When did I get old??

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  11. This was such a great post. I haven’t put much thought into those types of details, because currently, I’m only writing for my blog. So it’s current each week for my readers. But, I think as I start my next foray into short stories or gasp, even a novel (saying that almost sounds too ambitious for me), these are important points to consider.

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