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Blogging By the Sea
Saturday, February 25 2023

Our Round Robin Blog Hop this month asks the question:  How can contemporary Fiction keep up with our swiftly changing world, politically, socially or technically? Or how do you keep your stories located in time?



Sometimes, we are advised to keep our writing free of things that “date” it, and yet, this isn’t always either possible or desired. Unless you plan to never refer to any specific piece of popular music, a current TV show or movie, politician, movie star or sports hero, then you pretty much date your story with this information. Other things that can date a story that are easily overlooked are things like the mention of organic anything in the kitchen, security lines at the airport, reusable grocery bags and so much more.


Technology poses an even bigger challenge because it changes even more often than car models and fashion trends, so what is common today is gone tomorrow. I wrote a story set in 1972, not really that far in the past and yet when I depicted a harried father of an injured child asking my heroine to watch his other two kids because he was unable to reach his wife, my first beta reader asked why he didn’t just call her on her cell. I reminded my reader that cell phones did not exist in 1972. Yet, they have become so common, even for fairly young children, that not being able to reach someone is pretty much a thing of the past and even my savvy beta reader didn’t think about that. In my novel, it didn’t date the story so much as confuse the reader, but things like TVs with rabbit ears, VCRs and Game Boys do rather fix the time frame of the book.


There are also the common reference points we have in our cultural memory. Suppose I mention that a town is like Mayberry, I’m betting there is a whole generation of young adult readers who have no idea where Mayberry is or what the reference suggests. God knows, even R2D2 or Rocky could be lost references. Says something about the permanence of Shakespeare that people still quote him. Watch an old movie or re-runs of old TV shows and note how many people smoke cigarettes. Old TV sitcoms always depicted married couples sleeping in twin beds. Not that many actually did use twin beds, but showing them sleeping together on TV was taboo. Future generations watching shows from as short a time as two years ago will wonder why there was no outward sign of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, or so few main characters of color that has suddenly appeared in just about every TV series’ casts today.


Bottom line for me is that there is no way to avoid any hint of a general time frame in our writing. Unless you are writing Sci-fi or historical, there has to be a backdrop that makes the characters and story come alive and to avoid any specifics is to leave the page and the characters colorless. Sometimes you can re-write a scene to avoid a problem. In my example above, I removed the distraught father’s comment about not knowing where his wife was and replaced it with she was out running errands and “Taking this gang to the ER with me would be a nightmare.” So I avoided the confusing reference. There are a number of ways to avoid a time tagging reference. For instance, instead of having your character watch Gunsmoke or CSI, you could simply say they fixed a bowl of popcorn and plopped into their recliner to watch their favorite TV series.


But there will be times you can’t avoid or work around these issues. My advice is just write the best story ever and it won’t matter that it’s dated. Depending on the story, you might want to find a way to tell the reader where they are and when. Easily done with a date line at the beginning of the book, or each chapter if the story moves from one time period to another. Or set the scene in the first few pages of the book with easily identifiable references. Examples might be: ‘It had only been a few years since 9/11 and people hadn’t begun to whine about long lines at the airport, yet.’  or  ‘Tom Brady had finally retired, for good, and now NFL fans would have to find someone else to adore or hate.’  Even kids born since 9/11 know what that ominous number means. Not everyone is a football fan but pretty much everyone’s heard of Tom Brady and his climb to fame as the GOAT. 


So, that’s my take on dating your stories. The era is part of the story, adds color and explanation to the actions of the characters and maybe we shouldn’t work so hard to avoid it. But why not hop on over and see how these other authors view the question.


Victoria Chatham 

Connie Vines

Dr. Bob Rich  

Anne Stenhouse 

Helena Fairfax  


Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 01:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
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    Skye Taylor
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