Posted on March 13, 2013
While my writing may not be prolific at the moment, the ideas are flowing pretty well. One of the issues I wrestle over for my WIP is a pretty common one for writers – what kind of technology do you include in your story?
The minute you add technology to your story, you face the threat of dating your work. At the same time, if you don’t add in technology that is typical, do you risk your story not being believable for today’s reader? As a sci-fi and fantasy writer, I find the question even more perplexing when world building.
If I’m writing a story that is to take place “today”, then I want that feeling of time to exist for my story every time someone reads it whether it’s this year or in ten years. And even though we may think of technology in futuristic means, the term actually covers a lot more. If you’re conveying communication in your story, are you doing it through pen, ink, and paper or by smart phone? If you’re characters are researching something, do they go to a library and look in books or do they pull out a tablet to surf the internet? If you have someone calling someone else, is it a rotary phone or a cell phone?
I know I make a lot of references to Harry Potter in my blog, but there’s a reason why beyond that they’re a major blockbuster hit and any writer could only dream of having a fraction of J.K. Rowling‘s success. Those books will stand out for a long time to come due to the building blocks Rowling used to create the stories. One of those blocks is her use of technology – or rather, the absence of “muggle” technology. While in the muggle world, Harry doesn’t use a computer or cell phone. All of the technology in it is magical – wands, quill & ink communication with owls, potions, invisibility cloak, and more seemingly 19th-century inspirations. None of her technological choices date her work.
If you’re writing something futuristic, your problems may be that you have to predict the evolution of where technology will be. One of the reasons dystopian fiction may be fun to write is that you have to piece back together technology after a civilization has failed. Sci-fi fiction helps us imagine where our technology could go. I watched a documentary once on how Star Trek affected where technology is today, but I’m still waiting for someone to get the holodeck up and running. Making up where technology will be in the future still requires a knowledge of what’s out there now to make it believable.
But what about those writers who place the timeline of their work in the “now”? If we reference the technology of today with names and such, will our work fade away just like the Palm Pilot of yesterday? While working on my WIP, I figure I’ve got a couple choices. I could avoid technology all together. However, it may be a little ridiculous that my characters never use a cell phone, a computer, or reference the internet at all depending on my story choices.
So then I could choose to follow the advice of very awesome editor, writing mentor, and writer Cheryl of Ink Slinger Editorial Services to reference basic technology but use generic terms. So iPhone becomes cell phone and Macbook becomes laptop (yes, I’m an Apple girl). That advice seems to be the most sound – not to deny that technology is there, but to possibly limit the use of it and to keep it general. (Sidebar: I’ll be hiring Cheryl and using her Ink Slinger Editorial Services when I’m finished with my WIP because of her expertise in sci-fi & fantasy fiction as well as her eagle eye).
I’ve mentioned before that my WIP deals with magic. So I could choose to take the focus of the technology from what we mere mortals use on a daily basis and place it on my own magical technology. If most of the interaction is between magical people, than that could work. But if I have a mix between mortals and magical people, then I have to make some decisions.
How do you handle technology in your story?
I have no real answer to the question of what to do with technology in a story. It’s one of the many things as a writer that I have to pay attention to in order to create a believable world that will stand the test of time. I’m still delving into the books I love to see how my beloved authors handle the technology issue. For the most part, I see an avoidance. Perhaps I’ll do a follow-up to my answer for my WIP once I get going on the story.
So for now, it remains a question that every writer has to deal with for their own work – how do you handle technology in your story? I leave you to ponder your own answer as I get back to writing. What should I use today – a pen and paper, a typewriter, a voice recorder, a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, a smart phone…?