Writing Wrongs

June 21, 2006

Over on the Wet Noodle Posse blog today, Mary is talking about pop culture references in novels and the effect they have when you come across one. Does it jerk you out of the story? Fit with the characters? Make the book feel dated?

I think if an odd/dated pop cultural reference makes sense for the characters, itís certainly okay. Andrew (nine years old) knows about Elvis. And he knows about Queen because he watches a lot of boy sports movies and itís a Hollywood requirement that boy sports movies include the songs: We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions.

No, really. It is.

I always check the original copyright of the book when something seems odd, then adjust accordingly. One problem I see, especially in the romance/womenís fiction genre, is writers giving their much-younger-than-they-are heroines a worldview similar to their own. This really sticks out unless thereís some accompanying world-building to go along with it.

You could, very easily, build a young adult character whoís a music geek. Sure, they share your taste in music, but itís more than that. They know everything there is to know about, say, early R&B, or Motown, or Elvis. It becomes an interesting character trait rather than sounding like something a writer filled in on a character workup chart because that slot was empty.

Oddly enough, Iíve had the reverse of this problem with India Charlie (Desert Storm book) and The Boysí Club (covers 1989 Ė 1993). These books arenít set in the murky present tense but in specific places and times. I want certain cultural references to be in there, and certain ones NOT in there. I have to watch my phrasing, especially in dialogue. For instance, I SO could not use SO in that manner because thatís a fairly recent linguistic quirk.

Iíve heard it said that pop culture references date a book and negatively affect its shelf life, so to speak. So we end up with authors ďwriting aroundĒ references that, to me, often sound awkward. Thereís this weird unreal present day that I think only exists in commercial fiction.

And while not every book needs to written with the notion of posterity in mind, I think thereís great value in writing a character who is in a certain place and time, who has a certain worldview, and who feels certain things because of it. Call it the new historical. Call it something, please.

That way, when I go to query The Boysí Club, Iíll know what to call it.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 12:05 p.m.