Technology in Contemporary Romances

I’m still stuck in editing hell….Here are some more of my thoughts as I plod along tightening language and working on some plot issues.

I have found myself toning back references to technology in my book and trying to be more generic with terms like phone, or SUV instead of a specific model.  I remember I worked on a women’s fiction novel about ten years ago, and had what I call a “bottom-drawer” draft that sat for a few years. Then I pulled it back out after a while and asked my longsuffering husband to take a look at it.  He grunted when I had the male character driving a Dodge Durango. When I wrote it, Durango was the latest fad in SUV’s, but several years later it ahd fallen out of favor, and they even stopped making them for a year to retool.  I also realized that a couple of the phone issues could have been resolved with a quick text, technology that wasn’t in existence when I wrote the first draft.

Technology is a tough call. You want to stay in your character’s voice while at the same time you don’t want to date your story.  Just a few years ago, a Blackberry smartphone was the market leader, especially in the business sector. Now, Apple and Droid are dominating, Two years from now, who knows what the latest craze will be? I’m going back with the generic “smartphone” instead of iPhone.

Social networking is another issue that i see lacking in most of the contemporaries that I’m reading. Facebook and twitter have permeated our culture, but referring to a generic “social network” seems really forced. So I’m thinking at this point most authors are leaving it out.  But what about that critical moment in a modern relationship when it becomes “facebook official?” Or the angst of how much to comment on his page, or potential problems of seeing a guy you have the hots for tagged in a picture with a drop-dead gorgeous beauty?  Since I’ve seen very little mentioned about facebook, I’m curious how authors are handlign it (if at all) in their WIP’s. I’m thinking social networking could eventually replace the tabloid press photos that pop up in so many Harlequin-style contemporaries–I still laugh every time about the ready availability of newspaper gossip pages and incriminating photos. And no, the tabloid press doesn’t hound every single CEO of the Fortune 500.. 

There is even a bigger issue at work here. How many of the plots of Seinfeld would be completely unworkable with a cell phone? Remember the restaurant scene where George tells his date to call the restaurant? There were several episodes where they missed each other where one call to a cell phone would have solved the problem. There was also the 2-line phone storyline, Remember they got lost on the way to a cabin – meet Mr. GPS.

As a reader, I have found myself balking over a misuse of technology. I get frustrated in a contemporary when characters don’t have cell phones–almost everyone does these days unless they are either dirt poor or live in an area where there is no reception.  It’s more believable to me that the battery died, or the signal is unavailable than that they don’t have one.  In one I read recently, the character didn’t have a cell phone and was stranded on the side of the road, but I finally accepted it because the author explained that she had a cell phone for the job she had just quit. But I still thought about it — would anyone I know take off cross-country without even a pay-as-you go phone? I would have believed it better if the character had a phone but had no reception in the desert. I recovered and got back into the story, but it was as jarring as a digital watch in a fourteenth century romance.

Where do we go from here? Maybe some fiction is meant to be dated. I recently read some older romance novels, and they are completely different, both in the levels that intercourse is described (not at all) and the amount of dialogue (very little). The same book has some racist language that few modern editors would let slip through, but it was consistent with the beliefs of the day, which was the turn of the century.

So, remember to give technology and modern issues as much attention as you would for a historical. Make it a little more generic, and pay attention. You don’t want readers questioning your story because the technology is wrong or missing.  If you’re working on it for more than a few years, you may have to rethink some of your technology assumptions. In a few years we will have gay married couples popping up everywhere.

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  1. Nicole Doran   •  

    You’re so right. Nowadays I believe that unless an author is writing in a specific time period – contemporaries that are set in present day should be up to date on technology and lingo. It makes for a more believable read. We all live in a world of tech gadgets, internet, and social media stuff. So, books that have no cell phones -unless service in a particular place is non-existent, should be in a story. I had ordered books from a reader service company at one time…and I didn’t know they were re-releases – and the writing was so dated that I couldn’t finish the story! Just my 2cents.
    Nicole Doran (writing as Nicole S. Patrick)…waves hi and bye….:-)

    • Lily Bishop   •  

      Nicole, Hi right back! And thanks for stopping by! I share the same frustration. I’m less sure what to do with the big social media sites in my writing, but I’m guessing the issue will raise its ugly head at some point. Just a few years ago, MySpace was the rage, and while it’s still here, it’s not much of a player any longer. Google Plus has tried to unset Facebook, but I’ve heard it referred to as a ghost town. Lots of bodies but no activity.

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