Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Different Kind of Dating

James O. Born

Last week we talked about using dates in your story that might lock you into a certain timeframe in the future.  It's an easy detail to keep in mind when you're writing.  You can avoid mentioning dates or who the president is or who won the Super Bowl that year.  One thing that is much more difficult and along the same lines is keeping your story and dialogue from being, "dated."

This actually hit home for me with TV shows and movies most recently.  I grew up in the 70s and loved the Rod Serling show The Night Gallery.  The music would give me the creeps.  The idea of ghosts or whatever else the master of the surreal could come up with kept me chatting about the show all week long.

Over the holidays I discovered some little-known channel far up the number guide which seems to do nothing but replay old, obscure TV shows.  Among them I found The Night Gallery and recorded several episodes.  The only one I ended up watching featured Stuart Whitman as a writer who moves into a house which has an ancient chest and he is told not to bother it.  I can't believe Stuart Whitman was nominated for an Oscar.  The segment of The Night Gallery bordered on the amateur.  It would not fly on network TV today.  A six-year-old could look at it and understand it was made forty years ago.

The other series which captured my younger self's attention was The Outer Limits.  Although I caught it in reruns in the early 70s, it still made a huge impact on me.  Now you can watch episodes of it on YouTube.  Maybe things have just gotten too sophisticated and special effects mean more than I thought they did.  But some of the storylines are just plain dull.  I can tolerate stupid, I can put up with silly, but I cannot stand dull. 

There are few novels that hit me the same way as TV shows or movies like I just mentioned.  Perhaps it is the visual element.  Maybe it's because I prefer to read.  Regardless, I occasionally reread a book I loved when I was younger and don't understand what I loved about it.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seemed funnier when I didn't contemplate the consequences of putting people in danger or harassing the wait staff at different restaurants.  Maybe it's just that I've seen too many drunks ruin an evening that I no longer have a tolerance for it or laugh at their antics.  Just a personal quirk.  Please don't send me e-mails telling me how great Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is.  I understand it is a classic and I’m blaming my career in law enforcement and raising children for ruining the book for me.  I'm not blaming Hunter S. Thompson.

The point I'm making is that our tastes evolve.  I believe an entire generation evolves and looks at earlier works, which seemed brilliant at the time, as a little less exciting.

Think about books you loved as a teenager.  I can remember reading the movie novelization of The Omen.  This was before I had any idea what a movie novelization really was.  I just saw a paperback book with a cool cover and I started to read it.  I thought it was genius.  Now I would think about punching the author in the head.

When I got a little older, sometime in my early 30s, the movie The Fallen came out and I picked up the movie novelization paperback.  I still didn't recognize exactly what it was when I bought it.  Then, reading the book, I understood clearly the lack of depth and detail and the fact that it was just the movie redirected into a novel format.  Even at that early stage of my interest in writing I saw the missing character development and emotional impact a good novel can have.

So when you're writing your novel take a moment to consider how someone might view it in a decade.  How important are the character’s needs?  How high are the stakes?  You don't want to end up like Doctor Evil and only ask for “One million dollars”.


  1. Thanks for calling this to our attention, James O. I recently reread my yellowed copy of REBECCA by Daphne DuMaurier, which was first published in 1938. After all those years, it still holds up. Something to think about.

  2. James O. Born2/12/2015 7:37 PM

    Some books and movies do hold up. No question.