Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How does that work?

Okay - so I'm posing a question that I'd really like your opinion on.

Devastation has hit many places in the world so far this century. Devastation on a scale that's been seen before, but perhaps not so much at once (or am I too young to understand how much the wars last century devastated in a similar way?).

Places have been irrevocably lost - or are irreversibly changed - and yet in contemporary books they're still there. In fact, in many thousands of books, thanks to the talent of the writers, they're alive and thriving, vivid and exciting places, not touched by the horror - or even the inkling of horror - that's in their future.

How does that work for a reader who knows better? Can the reader slip into the world of a book - even though there's the fresh knowledge that a place no longer exists, and therefore realism can't be pretended?

Is that where historical and sci-fi/paranormal/steam punk have a much longer shelf life - because today's reality is already suspended?

What is the affect on those who write contemporary?

The disaster in Japan is on a scale of terrible that I find difficult to comprehend. I'm not sure how it would affect me if I was to sit down and read a beautiful romance, sited in Miyagi.


  1. In some ways, it may make the story more poignant - it may lend it the romanticism we attach to 'Paris before the war' for example. Also, the flurry of interest in the place that has been destroyed may boost interest in the story. But I can see that there is a tension between that and making your story bang up to date. You have raised a very interesting question, Tyree. One that writers of contemporary romance need to think about.

  2. I love reading books that include buildings or natural wonders that once were. I've read a couple that include the Pink and White Terraces and I loved being part of that world, experiencing it through the eyes of the characters. Another was set just before the Pompeii eruption - chilling but fascinating at the same time.

    It brings up the opportunity to write alternate history stories too. I've always been fascinated by that 'what if?' question.

    Great post!

  3. That's true Cody - and perhaps losing ourselves in a place that we can no longer visit will add to the story.

    LaVerne - you're right - I love reading the 'real' historicals based on facts, too - and the what if's are how I always start my world building. I don't feel jarred out of a story in those instances.

    But, for those who want to write the 'here and now' and 'edgy contemporary', the loss of the actual world could 'date' their work before it even hits the shelves. Can that be helped? Or is it a risk we take? As Cody says it could have the reverse effect and boost sales - could it?

  4. I don't think there's much that can be done if something contemporary that appears in a contemporary book disappears or is changed in some way by natural or unnatural events (ie. Twin Towers in NYC).

    The only way that can be is if the book hasn't yet reached the final phase of production and an editor or author are able to remove or alter it if they felt strongly enough about it.

    I know when I see old movies featuring the NYC skyline I like the reminder of what the World Trade Center used to look like and where it was etc.

    As a reader, I don't mind reading something contemporary with a missing piece of the present. Books are escapism, no matter the content, dated or not.

  5. ...books are escapism...dated or not.
    I absolutely agree.

  6. If the 'change' happened around the time the book came out it might be a bit disconcerting but I think readers would accept it and maybe be even more interested. I love the books of writer Paul Cleave whose crime novels are set in Christchurch. Nothing would stop me reading his books. A thought-provoking question, Tyree!