Modernism & Distraction
© Caitlin West
The modern world has really altered entertainment as a whole. You can see it in a movie like ‘The Departed’ where people are texting with their phones with all the alacrity of a Japanese Schoolgirl and in brand new television shows like ‘Strike Back’ where a character comments about their Facebook page. These provide an excellent means to set a story in the ‘now’ but potentially date the work.
I had avoided using many modernisms until recently when I started writing my Avalon Nights series. Each chapter has a Twitter post by the main character with personal information. I use it to provide background on her, snippets of her personality and anecdotes about her past that wouldn’t really fit into the story itself.
Gratuitous use of these things can obviously cause distraction. When the reader starts to think more about the technology the character is using than what the character is doing, the author should probably reign in the geeking out. Much in the same way that hard sci-fi can become distracting with massive word count dedicated to the workings of a strange device or a costume romance goes into the stitch work for a ball gown, moderation should be exercised.
I remember some Asimov books breaking out the slide rulers and talking about how women were little more than secretaries and gossips. Even with his far reaching science fiction, he implemented a piece of modern technology that reminds the reader now that the piece was written decades ago. I would argue that in some ways, this robs the magic of the piece. Distracting the reader from the ‘what if’ of the tale and making them think ‘wow, this really is old’.
Ultimately, I’m talking about distraction. Modern readers and storytellers are much more interested in what the characters are going through, how they are overcoming their obstacles and what sort of conclusion they’ve built for themselves. The little details, whether they are modern uses of Google or old stories talking about the abacus, these should be props and tools for story progression.
There are a number of niche genres that happily embrace embellishment. One publisher has a requirement that if you’re submitting a fantasy story, the magic system must be well thought out and detailed, explainable to the reader and sound in theory. Their science fiction must have tech that has been defined and based upon real research and plausible description.
Look on the bookshelves at your local shop and you’ll notice that the number of books as I just described are dwindling. Even the sequel books to Dune are far less technical than Frank Herbert wrote. One of the authors is a physicist and he still manages to focus more on the emotional side to what’s going on. I think that’s what people are most interested in since that’s what we, as readers, can associate with.
Do I need to know how the ship goes into hyperspace to appreciate that the pilot is on a quest to find his lost daughter amidst a crew of smuggling space monkeys? Does it matter what ethereal realm a wizard draws his power from or would I prefer that word count spent on him roasting some goblins before they destroy an unsuspecting town?
I caution other writers in the use of modernisms and over embellishment but at the same time, I don’t think people should shy away. Even though I said earlier that some of the magic is taken away by a realization of how dated something is, there’s a chance that a reader might experience some nostalgia too. It may seem like I’m suggesting right and wrong ways to do thing and that’s not my intention. I’m more interested in drawing ambiguous attention to something that I thought about before writing Avalon Nights.
My father read the first Avalon Nights before I submitted it and he LOVED the Twitter thing. He thought it was super fun and it was really his first real explanation as to what Twitter even is. He also commented that he appreciated that it only happened at the beginnings of the chapters. I could’ve probably overdone it but as a background device, it worked splendidly.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is texting in stories. It’s amazing trying to format a chat conversation or a text conversation into a narrative. The closest thing I can equate it to is a telepathic conversation I read out of the Amber series by Roger Zelazny. I used that as my inspiration when I started text conversations in a book. I suppose in that regard, it’s not so new as a new way to convey a previously ‘fantasy-centric’ means of communication.
I suspect that this trend will become more and more popular as modern authors fully embrace these various technologies. So many people read blogs, use Twitter or Facebook, google things and text each other that the audience will roll with whatever we can toss at them. We’re all jacked in, informed and well versed in the Web. We might as well use these tools to their fullest and throw them into the spotlight of exposition.
So long as we don’t let them become a distraction, they’ll only legitimize our own growth as artists.
And now, for a teaser from her newest book at eXtasy Books:
I wrote a two part series called ‘Creative Spark’. Part 1 came out in August and Part 2 was released at the beginning of September. The books are available through eXtasy Books and the entire first chapter is available to read on my web site: www.caitlinwest.com. The back cover blurb is below.
Part 1 ‘Time to Wake’
Part 2 ‘Unveiling the Serpent’
Publisher" Devine Destinies
Series: Creative Sparks Book#1
Karen Bowers has always dreamed of dead people. They begged for her help and at the tender age of twelve, her parents had her institutionalized. Now, a semi-successful artist, she has embraced what doctors could not stamp out, quietly helping spirits move on to the afterlife.
But even accepting her fate has not made her immune to the twisted designs of the universe. A spirit two hundred years in her grave shows up asking for help, centuries beyond anything she’s ever dealt with. Her clues involve a tragedy in 1805, a doomed love affair and a dangerous ambition that could unravel the very fabric of reality.
Can she unlock the mystery before it’s all too late? Will the help of an eccentric book store owner turn the tide? What will happen to the life she’s managed to build around her odd condition? The answer lies in a spark.)