This Takes Me Back

back in college
back in college

“You’re so tall! You can wear anything!”

Sure. Anything that fits. And when you are 6’1″ very few things fit. Only in the past few years have I been able to find jeans that are actually long enough–and I pay plenty extra for the privilege. Some stores have tall sizes–tall meaning 5’11”. Sleeves are never long enough unless I buy a shirt that falls off my shoulders. Cuffs? Never. Cute jeans with pretty stitching? Never. Slacks? If I tear out the hem and have frayed edges.

For years I couldn’t find shoes in my size. Or I could, but they were boat shoes. Fine for nursing uniforms, but not what I wanted for a party. I’d go in to department stores and ask if they had anything in my size. The clerk would frown or laugh and then say no. Through my teens and twenties I wore shoes that didn’t fit, and I’ve got permanently damaged toes to prove it.

Details are important when writing. Perhaps you describe what a character is wearing or the car she drives. Perhaps you have a character using a particular appliance or using a special catchphrase. Details should make the world real. Right?

But when do details make a story dated? Why do some details work forever and others make you put the book down? Where does historical become dated? What is the difference?

6 thoughts on “This Takes Me Back

  1. Great question. I’ve heard some agents and editors say to avoid dating the book, try to avoid being overly specific. So the heroine made her phone call on a cell phone, but don’t name the brand or model. The hero drove a red Mustang, but unless it’s a classic like a ’65 ‘Stang, don’t mention the year. And avoid mentions of pop culture icons of the time.

    Nothing will stop a work of literature from becoming dated if it’s contemporary. Time only moves one way. We can help a reader fit into our time frame without pinning them to a particular year unless that’s critical.

    I don’t know if I ever describe clothing. I used to, but not anymore.

    1. Well, I don’t describe any clothes unless they’re relevant to plot or character. Otherwise I don’t much mind what the reader imagines. But you know, some old movies are classics and other old movies are now jokes. What was the magical difference?

      But yes, specific but not too.

  2. When I was reading one of the Bourne books a few months ago, I realized that Bourne was always having to stop and find payphones every time he needed to call someone. It didn’t take me out of the story, but it caused me to realize just how long ago Ludlum wrote it.

    I think fashion and tech references can be the most dating in a story, but if there’s a time period you’re going for, it’s important to remember what was around at that time. You wouldn’t put cell phones into a 50’s story (unless it’s sci-fi time travel thing, I suppose, but then would they even work?)

  3. Cell phones always work in Doctor Who no matter the time–but he rejiggers them. 😉 Tech oh so gets in the way of a story sometimes. I mean, what if Romeo and Juliet had cell phones. Psh.

  4. The WIP takes place in the late ’80s. I have to keep bearing that in mind, and (I think) sometimes remind the reader — so that s/he doesn’t ask, “Why don’t they just use their cell phones?”

    I’m really bad with details, as in, I probably linger over them to a fault. This is especially true with settings. I’ve had critiquers tell me it drives them crazy — although every now and then, someone says it puts them there with the characters in a way that simply saying “He sat down in X’s office” (or whatever) doesn’t.

    And then there’s the whole word-count issue, which seems to freak out so many people. When I hear agents and editors lay down absolute mandates — “Do NOT write 150K-word novels, or at least don’t send them to ME” — I realize that the first thing to go will probably be (say) the detailed inventory of the clutter in an elderly character’s garage.

    Btw, there’s another metaphor suggested above that I’d like to see you tackle at some point. (You may have already, I don’t remember — please forgive if I’ve forgotten.) Which has to do with wearing clothes that clearly don’t fit us. I often wonder if the writer I am is (or can be) the writer I’m trying to be.

  5. This is an interesting question. I’m not sure I know the answer. we need the details we need to tell the story. We need to set the stage and part of that is the time. A story set in the 80’s is different from one set in the 17th century. What would Romeo and Juliet be with cel phones? It would be a story set at the turn of the millenium. The timeless concept remains. The details change. Could still be a great story. Depending upon our skill in the writing, no?

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