Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Time Is It?

The chosen setting of a novel presents to the author hundreds of little description decisions that must be made throughout the plot in order to sell the authenticity of the story. A novel that takes place in 1998, for example, will be very different in many ways than one that takes place in 2008.

Take a look at developments in technology over the past ten years. Since the end of the '90s we've seen Internet usage demographics go from 'just tech-savvy urbanites' to 'everyone and her grandparents.' DVD players have all but replaced VHS. In 1999, most of my music was still on cassette tape. I didn't have time to buy all the CDs I wanted before MP3 music files became the rage. Televisions were still bulky boxes with 32-inch screens sitting atop consoles, and although the technology to stop, rewind, and digitally record live TV has been around for twenty-five years, TiVo didn't become a household word until the middle of the first decade after the Millennium.

I still haven't made a firm decision about the setting of my WIP. The original premise hinges on a random, computer-generated phone call by a telemarketer selling long distance telephone service. I could stick with that premise and set the novel in the early 2000s. If I do, then when the antagonist sets out to hunt down the protagonist with only her first and last name and an area code, I'll have to decide what devices he uses to locate her. The Internet? In 2001 and 2002, a "Google" search wouldn't pull up very much on an ordinary person in her early 20s. Even if you were Feeling Lucky. MySpace? Would my reclusive, thirty-something bad guy even have a computer at his house? And on the road, would he know how to find or use an Internet café? I'd have to figure out what other options he would have at his disposal.

Option number two is to move the setting to modern day. To do so, I'd have to tweak the premise. Do we even have telemarketers anymore? I get calls from credit card company affiliates wanting to sell me protection packages against identity theft. Maybe old Ray works for one of those? Does he have a laptop computer to take on the road with him? Does Julie have a FaceBook profile? (I tried to find a "Julie Knotts" on FaceBook, just for the fun of it. There were literally thousands of people who came up.)

At this point, the logic problems to work through seem endless. Clearly, depending on the setting I choose, I have more research ahead of me.

How does technology impact your current story? Do you have to think about it, or is it irrelevant? Do you have to create any technology of your own?