Wednesday, 15 April 2009



What do you think about dating in your books?

I don't mean dating as in going out for dinner. Heck, we write romance. There should be some dinner dates or something going on in there! I'm talking about book dating -- specifically, the way some editors say not to add anything to your novel that will "date" your book, such as listening to your 8-track tapes or mentioning currently popular bands. [This doesn't apply to historical fiction, of course.]

I've been pondering this since it came up on a writing list. A writer was wondering whether to use a brand name or not because of trademark violations and dating the story. (It's not a trademark violation if you capitalize the brand name to show it's a brand name.)

But why is dating a story so horrible? Maybe I'm a bit of a rebel, but I purposely date all of my novels. I have specific time periods in mind and make sure to make references to that time. My series even has dates as chapter headings. Why is this a bad thing?

I love reading novels and being pulled back into the time frame of the story. Think of the romances of the Seventies (for those of us old enough to remember the Seventies). Didn't they have that luscious timeframe feel to them? I vividly remember being in a story where I had to take a term and put it into context because it was not applicable to the time period in which I was reading it. But that's part of the fun of reading. It puts you elsewhere. It opens your small world and makes it larger.

It may depend on the story, but with mine being largely music-based and dealing with social and cultural issues, the time periods in which they are set are important to the story. I use specific band/musician references in all of them, and generally brand names, capitalized. Am I making them short-lived that way? I don't think so.

David Copperfield is wonderfully dated. So is John Irving's The Cider House Rules. Still, they're timeless. I believe part of the timeless appeal is the wonderful real sense of the times.

My Rehearsal series is set in the 70s, moving into the 80s as the books progress. The single-mother issue wouldn't be as big an issue now as it was then. Neither would the heroine being half Native American (termed as "Indian" in the series since it was still called Indian back then). The issues raised are dated, and so, the books have to be, also. Maybe in a hundred years, if someone is reading it that far into the future (I can only hope), she won't know who Eric Clapton and The Beatles and Donny Osmond are without looking back into history. But maybe it will convince her to look back into history. Maybe it will spark an interest to help rediscover some of those bands and the era in which they ruled.

What do you think? If you run across a band or song name or product or expression you don't know, does it annoy you or does it persuade you to research a bit and check it out?

Shouldn't we, as authors, be helping to build a biography of our times to leave to the future? Fiction has always helped me see real life and times of the past better than history books. I want to do the same for future generations. And yes, I remember the Seventies well enough to catch the true flavor of the time. I think it was well worth capturing, and it's been a lot of fun revisiting that incredible rock/pop music.

Reh1-froncovert-tinyRehearsal: A Different Drummer
LK Hunsaker
mainstream romance


Savanna Kougar said...

I like your idea of dating a novel's time period with songs, movies, etc.
The novels I've written are definitely dated because it does speak to an era, a specific cultural time. It is all different, every decade, and every merging of decades.

Bekki Lynn said...

Oh, Donny, my everlasting love. His son, Brandon, just won a song writing contesting last month.

I think dated work is awesome. I love learning about different aspects of time I lived and didn't know. I was rather sheltered. And reading about it in romance is definitely better than sitting in a boring history class.

I have a military series that begins with date and location so the reader knows off the bat the time frame, so when they hit the music or happen to know the military base in it's current form, they won't be thrown off.

Major changes were implemented at the base less than a year after the series ends.

People need to be accepting of different periods during modern times - the 60's and 70's were major historical decades, not just politically and militarily, but also in fashion, music and lifestles.

My kids (15-28)think the music of the 60's and 70's is so much better than the music of the last twenty years with a few exceptions. I got this from the college kids at the restaurant, too.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Great post, LK! I agree with Savanna and Bekki - dated work is excellent. There's a huge revivial of interest in the 60s, 70s, 80s at the moment, certainly here in the UK. I think it gives readers a frisson of pleasure to have those very specific details in place: it 'grounds' a novel. It gives work that extra reality and life.

LK Hunsaker said...

Savanna, it's good to hear of other authors purposely dating their books. You really can't separate a time from a story since we all react to our times.

Bekki, I saw that Brandon won! I get Donny updates. How does the man look even better now than he did when younger? And his voice ... sigh. I'll have to check your military stories. Two bases we lived on closed just after we left. It's nice that you're immortalizing that one.

Thank you, Lindsay. I started writing this series before the 70s revival hit so it worked out to be nice timing! I've also heard lots of kids say they prefer 60s & 70s music. I think it had more definition and felt less ... mushy than lots of today's music. The 70s stuff, especially, became less whiny which was getting on people's nerves and I think is again. Of course, I adore Nickelback and Rob Thomas and such, but most of my faves are the older songs and bands.

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, well said.

Interesting about the song trends, ya all. I remember back to a time after Disco dancing, which I loved because I love dancing... anyway, suddenly the pop songs became this saccharin sweet stuff I couldn't stomach, and I would turn off the car radio.

Kaye Manro said...

Wonderful thought provoking post, LK! I think this debate is ongoing. With your work, it is necessary to use what you do because of the time in which you set your novels. With other folks, it can be awkward.

Take my friend. She wrote a contemporary story set in the present and her editor said why does your heroine have to search for a pay phone and not have a cell? In her case, it was true she needed to write in the cell phone. Have you tried to find a working pay phone lately-- almost impossible!

So again, it all depends on what you are writing. Always, I believe you need to stay true to your story, its setting and its characters.

Linda Banche said...

All contemporaries will one day become historicals. Jane Austen's books were contemporary novels in her day. The trick is to use universal themes and evoke the period so well that the book becomes timeless.

Keena Kincaid said...

Fabulous post, LK. I write historical fiction, so I don't have to worry about this (dialect/historical language is the pain in my neck).

I think grounding novels in place and time gives them a sense of realness and urgency. We're grappling with the big issues of love, life, equality, etc. Each era answers those questions differently. I know I love comparing how my medieval heroines would handle a issue to how contemporary heroines handle the same issue.

Celia Yeary said...

Hi, Loraine--notice I joined this blog of Lindsay's? She was so sweet to invite me. Anyway, I understand your comments, and there are pros and cons. I think the few years "chick lit" was on the shelves really brought home the dating novels thing. In those, the few I tried to read--brand names were thrown about nilly-willy. Those shoes--see, I'm not up to date on so much--instead of saying "shoes", the character always said, "My..." Oh, I remember--Jimmy Choo shoes, I think made famous by Sex and the City.In ten years, those books will be dated because they're written to be very modern, very chic, very "in." So, the brand names won't be around and the books won't be the same. There's a fine line, I think.Read something like "Peyton Place"--it almost seems funny, but it's for that time period. Read "The Grapes of Wrath"--a timeless story even though everything in it is from the Depression Era.Celia

Phoebe Matthews said...

Quite right! The trick is to find a publisher who can get your book out there before your favorite restaurant closes. I love contemporaries that give me background information on what is going on now.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Pleasure to have you here, Celia!

(Phoebe, if you fancy joining the pink blog, just drop me an email.)

Chelle Cordero said...

I think that adding the surroundings (including songs or even current events) makes the story more real

LK Hunsaker said...

Savanna, anything you can dance to is good music. ;-) Saccharin sweet in the early 80s? I'm trying to search my brain for which were in that category.

Kaye, yes exactly. My WIP is set fairly current and the main character is always on his cell. That is a mark of contemporary life. Without that detail, it doesn't feel true.

Linda, the theme is the name of the game, isn't it? No matter what brands and such we use, the theme will hold readers through the years, as you say, if it's universal.

Keena, studying eras and the major issues of each is fascinating. I'm afraid if I wrote historicals, I'd find myself using those speech patterns in daily life and confuse people more than I do already. ;-)

Celia! Welcome to the pink blog! Chic lit is really meant to be temporary, though, isn't it? You're right - no one beyond these times will be able to relate to that. It's not only the branding, but it seems to be completely entrenched in modern day themes, also, too narrow to be timeless. At least that's the way I see it.

LOL Phoebe! Publishing before something closes can be quite the trick right now, unfortunately.

Thanks, Chelle. :-) It looks like most of us want that.