Thursday, March 20, 2008

Writing With Style

No, I don't mean the actual style of the words you put down on paper (or your computer screen). I mean the style of the clothing, the furniture, and the objects on the table.

Some of us set our novels in the present – what is familiar to us. Our characters use items and wear clothing we wear today. Sally the divorcĂ©e drives a new Lexus, teenage Adam enjoys a Wii game with his girlfriend, and Mark scours the Internet for an IP address that solves the murder.

Sometimes we set our novels in our own past. We relive those moments in our youth that meant so much to us. This is where things can get sticky. We run the risk of alienating the reader with stuff they can't relate to.

Who remembers Clackers? I still feel the bruises on my forearms I received while playing with those things. What if I casually refer to a child playing with the toy while writing about the Seventies? A twenty-year-old could be yanked right out of the story.

Sometimes agents, editors and beta readers warn us against pigeonholing our work into a certain era. They think we should homogenize our work in order to appeal to the masses.

Should we ignore their advice and run the risk? Hell, why not? With a few fancy keystrokes, we can write these trendy objects into our stories and make readers feel as if they were part of that era. What's the point of escaping to another world if it's just the same as the one around us?

Historical writers do it all the time. They take the reader along for the ride. Through their books we encounter the stiffness of bone stays in our undergarments, smell popular lemony cologne, or maneuver a car twice the size and half the speed of the sensible vehicles we drive today.

Science fiction and fantasy writers can do it, too. They show us gadgets that we never heard of, but somehow they make sense. They convince us that purple jumpsuits with green piping are the latest fashion.

Go ahead. Let your heroine coif her hair like Farrah Fawcett. Let your hero admire the lime green shag carpet. It's up to you to make it real for the reader.

--Sandra Cormier
The Space Between by The Wild Rose Press July '07
Bad Ice by Champagne Books July '08


Anonymous said...

Good post Sandra. I have a similar problem, but I go back further. Remember the Bobba-lo. How bout "flat head biscuits". And I agree with you, a little historical culture vs the modern pop culture is refreshing.

Big Mike