Monday, January 19, 2009

Should Books Contain Expiration Stamps?

Food and Drinks are stamped with expiration dates. What about books?

There are many novels, such as Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, and countless others that remain classics with the passage of time. Those are not the norm. Except for historical novels, readers expect books to reflect the time period in which they're released.

Because of that, you may want to think twice about including current fads, happenings or buzzwords in your manuscript. Remember, a book usually gets released a year or so after it's accepted by a publisher. Will those cute phrases be popular then? Worse yet, will they be overworn and redundant?

What about places? When you include actual places in manuscripts you run the risk they may not be there when your book gets out, such as Marshall Field's. When I wrote my Chicago area mystery, Two Wrongs, little did I know that Field's, a Chicago institution, would be taken over by Macy's and the name changed. Fortunately, in the case of Two Wrongs, although Field's no longer retains its name, many people have fond memories of it. Some buy the book to relive the days when Field's was popular. That doesn't happen in every case, so be careful of the places you include in your manuscript, or make up your own.

References to a VHS player or dial phone, without a good explanation, would date a manuscript.

Can you think of instances where authors have included outdated fads, items, events, buzzwords, or places that are no longer in existence? Or, can you think of examples that should not be included because they may soon become outdated? What is safe to use? Please share.

14 comments:

giddymomof6 said...

I so feel your pain here! I do! LOL! I'm writing YA chick lit and I have to really, really be careful with what references I make to all things teen related (movie star rushes, music, fashion) and in some instances I get away with what's popular now (Like High School Musical) by mentioning that they're classics in the book. LOL! It's hard though, to predict the future of the teen market! LOL! I imagine I'll be updating as each book gets closer to publication.

A. Kichu said...

Sometimes i feel that books should have expiration dates..

Moira Keith said...

Though no particular book comes to mind, I personally feel that these outdated fads, items, etc. help to set the scene and time of the book. Then again, I may be the abnormal reader, as I don't expect a book to necessarily reflect the times it is released. I think the story should reflect the times the author set the story in.

Mark Troy said...

The pace of technology can really date a book. When I wrote "Pilikia Is My Business," mobile phones were found mainly in cars. By the time it was published, they were found in shirt pockets. My detective used to carry a camera in her car. Now it's on her phone. And pay phones, that staple of detective stories, are nearly all gone. It's hard to drop a dime on somebody anymore.

Robin Minnick said...

I tend to agree with Moira, tho' sometimes it's not important what time the book occurs in. I did have to go back and update a manuscript that's languished too long. Major world events like 9/11 tend to have an impact.
But another peeve I have, is if they get it wrong! I read one book that had me scratching my head as 2 design 'experts' were trying to put shag rugs and lava lamps in the 1950's. I certainly don't remember them until at least the '60s.

F. M. Meredith, author said...

I think it's nearly impossible to keep up with. My Rocky Bluff PD series seems to be in a quieter time period though they do use cell phones. Police still do use cameras, just better ones than they did in the older days. I try not to get too technical. It helps that the town and the police department are fictional.

In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series I deliberately changed the name of the town even though it is based on the one I live in because the businesses change way too often.

Marilyn
http://fcitionforyou.com

conarnold said...

I'm old enough that I can enjoy references in books to things that I remember (since technology advances so quickly, it might not be long ago!) or places I've been.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

As fast as technology is changing, it's really tough not to reference something that might soon be outdated. I wanted my YA series to have a window of at least ten years when it could've occurred, and that was difficult. I ended up being very general in some of my references...

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

Marvin D. Wilson said...

This is a good idea/subject for a post and you made some good points. Also the commenters about the fast changing technology. I guess if you're going for a quick hit short-lived profit-making book and you're already an established writer with a pub house that will get it out & push it right away, "fad words" and techie details will work - but they do tend to bar the book from attaining the level of a lasting classic.

Jenny Beans said...

Great tips, Morgan. It's hard to refrain from using some of the buzzy terms and phrases that are popular. It's also fun to do that if you're purposely trying to date the work. I have one set in the mid-1980s that is a lot of fun to work with. Having my teenage characters using phrases like, "Gross me out!" is definitely fun.

Jenny Bean
http://theinnerbean.blogspot.com/
http://www.emuse-zine.com

Dana Fredsti said...

I'm very much in the same way of thinking as Moira. It's impossible to stay entirely up to date on slang and such and I think most readers get that.

Patricia Harrington said...

Fun reading and good commentaries. I'm a believer in the triad: character, plot and setting for mysteries. Therefore, I give an author wiggle room when it comes to the customs, names and such of a period and place. To me, they all lend to the credibility of the story.

Am doing a Golden Age mystery novel set in the 1930's on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean. I'm not worrying so much about names of streets as capturing the times, whether the sugar factory was in operation or not, etc., for the processing of the sugar cane from the waning plantations.

Cheers,

Pat Harrington

Gayle Carline said...

I think if you root your story in a time frame and try not to make your references so cool they're completely obscure, I can read it and not feel lost in the time warp. What I really want to go away are the comparisons to actors and actresses. Telling me the lead character looks like Brad Pitt is a copout; give me a description worthy of a writer.

Mayra Calvani said...

Hi,

I didn't read through all the comments, so I don't know if I'm repeating myself.

Sometimes even countries change! I had to modify a new novel that was actually written in the 80's because in it I referred to the Soviet Union and Communism... well, things have changed!