The tech-savvy writer

2013_4$largeimg229_Apr_2013_114340717Helga’s Post # 108 —

As I prepared to write this post, I had a quick look at where our blog followers are located. As it happens, we are spread out across the continents. While the majority of our followers live in the US and Canada, a good number are in the UK and Australia, and a sprinkling in some other EU countries and Asia.

Geography, or distance, as it happens, becomes less important every year, even month. Our global community grows and gets closer and tighter with each improvement of social media and new applications. It’s an awesome concept to realize it only takes nano-seconds to link us across countries and continents to share what’s happening on our beautiful planet.

I was reminded of this two days ago, at the Indian Wells tennis tournament of all places. We were waiting with great anticipation for Serena Williams to start playing the semi-final with Simone Halep from Rumania. Suddenly, 43,000 shocked visitors watched as Serena appeared courtside, dressed not in her tennis outfit but a tracksuit to announce she has withdrawn due to a knee injury. I immediately texted family 2,000 miles away in Vancouver, only to hear back that they already knew. Even my son, who works on a boat that was somewhere in the Pacific with only satellite connection, knew the moment it happened.

This is how things have changed, even from a couple of years ago. Kids now grow up knowing how to text before they learn how to tie their own shoelaces. Not only texting. Applications abound to send pictures and sound clips without incurring a single penny of charges. Not so terribly long ago (in our techno world) we welcomed Skype as the manna from heaven to meet our communication need forever after. Still nice to have, but already overtaken by others.

I remember, years, no a few decades ago by now, how I communicated with my parents. I had immigrated to Canada from Austria and started a family a couple of years later. That was before computers and Internet. My contact with my parents in Vienna was limited to handwritten letters sent by post, occasionally augmented with grainy black-and-white Polaroid photos. Years later, our first phone call. The next one a year after. Only one call per year, at Christmas, as the cost was prohibitive. For comparison, one call, chatting for about ten minutes, cost about half a month’s salary.

Then our communication moved to a higher level: I recorded tapes on a Dictaphone and sent them by mail. Shortly after, my parents were able to visit as air travel to Vancouver became less cumbersome. Flight time was now about 15 hours compared to 27 that necessitated a stopover in Iceland!

More visits followed. Computers, Internet, Skype, Face Time, all came into play. Sadly though, my parents never did progress to high-tech, relying on other family members to physically print out my emails and photos. Though my dad tried his best and bought a computer, only to play Solitaire and a few other simple games. He did not connect to Internet because he worried about hackers! The best I was able to do for them was put hundreds of photos on memory sticks and mail them in bubble envelopes.

And the link to writing is?

We live in a state of flux and it affects every aspect of our lives, whether we wish it to be so or not. It also affects how we write and more importantly, how we make sure what we write is true to the technology for the time it was written.

This is a tricky beast. You finish the first draft of a novel, then a second and perhaps third, and finally you have a polished, marketable product. Your manuscript is ready to meet the world. If you decide to submit the traditional way it may take a long, long time. More likely, given statistics, the time never comes and your treasured manuscript gathers dust beneath your bed. So you might decide on self-publishing. Even that takes time. Tons of time. (I wrote a post about it a while back ‘Is trying to get published a time waster?’) The multitude of tasks you are suddenly saddled with until your book gets out to the world could be considerable.

And then your book finally sits on shelves, or more accurately, on Amazon’s or similar virtual shelves. Your book that you thought was the absolute trendsetter, whose writer was totally familiar with cutting edge technology. Time to break out the Veuve Clicquot (or lesser bubbles, depending on budget).

But that cutting-edge technology that was part of your plot is already passé. It’s suddenly boring.

What’s a writer to do in this fast-spinning techno world?

It’s not a problem for some genres. Romance novel readers are more interested in consummation than technical accuracy. Historical novels need to have their facts straight though, as do suspense, mystery and literary fiction writers. Nothing sinks a book faster than having their characters use a technology that didn’t exist at the time, or vice versa, NOT using it when it was already in wide use. Readers become ever more techno-savvy. They WILL notice.

So this is just one more aspect of writing we need to pay attention to. We know that character development takes center stage. We focus on it sometimes so much so that we neglect or don’t give other aspects the attention and respect they deserve. But a novel is multi-dimensional. Like an orchestra playing a symphony, it needs many parts. A soloist without the other players to back him up hardly makes for interesting listening (to my ears at least; music experts may disagree).

You, the writer, are the conductor of your orchestra. You make your characters dance to your tune. Like a conductor who chooses the music that is to be played at a concert and decides how it should be played – loud or soft, fast or slow, you do the same thing – deciding on voice of your characters and tempo of the plot.

So while we have control over this part of our writing, keeping up with trends in our fast-paced world is a challenge we can’t afford to ignore. It needs research and perhaps a keen outside eye if you’re not savvy enough yourself.

As for me, I’ll try to walk the middle line after a mistake I made not so long ago. I unwisely chose a topic for a historical novel that took an inordinate time for research. How about a story around the limited nuclear test ban treaty of the late Fifties between Eisenhower and Khrushchev?

Ah, the errors of a novice. But I can tell you all about the secret Soviet nuclear cities. How is that for a sexy topic?

11 thoughts on “The tech-savvy writer

  1. This really hit a nerve with me. For both my last two novels, I found I had to add the characters’ techno-savvy status to my notes about them, and because one was tied to recent real events I really struggled with technology that sounded dated as I tried to get it published.

    • I can relate. All these high-tech developments happen as fast as a Formula One race. So difficult to keep up when we try to get a manuscript finished. Thanks for your comment.

    • Such a typical oversight. Of course if the characters are in their nineties, they may be excused. Arthritic thumbs and all can do that! Thanks for visiting, Elizabeth!

  2. Thanks for opening this can of worms Helga! You’re so right — we have to match technology correctly to the story world and timeframe. I remember when the fab 5 were critiquing my mystery-suspense story starring Sunny, and Paula said something like, “What? A university student who hasn’t sent a single text in XX pages?” My lame excuse that her cell phone had been ripped off in the first scene didn’t really cut it!

    • Haha, I remember that session well, Silk! Our techno-queen Paula would spot anything like that blindfolded and ears plugged. We have to make sure she looks out for those glitches (aka deadly sins) in our future submissions.

  3. Hi Helga, you remind me of a conversation I had just yesterday – when I was a university we still didn’t even have a phone at home, so I’d have to go to a call box, ring a neighbour, who would then go and get my mother to come and talk to me! Fortunately my first novel didn’t need any technology, but you make a great point and I’m not sure I’d be up to the challenge 🙂

  4. Andrea, that little snippet about you calling your mom from a call box and fetching her by a neighbour would make a really great scene in a novel. Maybe it could be woven in as backstory? Thanks for your comment

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