Saturday, September 19, 2015

Writing Reality - Wait! Which One?

This is another post of questions without answers. Of observations and wonderings.

The other day I submitted some writing as part of an application for a writing workshop. The story takes place in the mid- to late 70s. The stories I submitted are excerpts from a larger body of work and that larger story was between 1974 to 1982, with a few flashbacks. 

Yesterday I was thinking about one of the stories, about feedback and questions from a mentor and peer writers on that story. The written story feels pretty solid and done. I was thinking about how that story would be different if it happened now - or when it happens now because it is not a unique situation. 

In 1975 there were no cell phones; at least not in the hands of the general public like there is now. 

There is another story (not a part of the submission, but a part of the Work In Progress (WIP)) about smoking pot. In 1976 it was illegal, meaning harder to get and you had to be careful with the smell and not get caught. Today I received a notice from Willamette Week about their upcoming Puff Puff Pizza event, which starts off with a "'pot'-tail" hour - yes, just what it sounds like. 

Not in the WIP, but in my life, I came out in late 1982 - early 1983. That was a significant change in my life. But, at the time, I didn't know about the significance of that period in the LGBTQ community. Yesterday a person in support of a grassroots cause came to my door, with non-cisgender clothing and name - something which would have been dangerous in the place and at the time I came out.

So - writing stories. Fiction or non-fiction or creative non-fiction, I don't think it matters which. The questions carry across the genre: conveying the reality of the time in a smooth and effective way. 

Another example happened earlier in the week. I was talking to another writer about research. How now it is so much easier, in many ways, because many of us have our Internet connected devices with us most of the time, we have computers at home. No more having to make lists and go to the library and look through the card catalogs and the book stacks. Two days ago at home I needed to find a recipe for the chicken breasts I'd bought; we have cookbooks filling half of two shelves in the kitchen. But I had something semi-specific in mind and it was easier to bring up the Internet and search on my phone rather than combing through the books in search of what I wanted. 

There are people alive who never heard of a "party line" in relationship to the phone. There are people alive who have never seen or heard of a "rotary phone" and can't conceive of one. There are people alive who grew up with computers in the home, the Internet, instant search and electronic books and cell phones in their pockets since they were young; they couldn't imagine having to search for a pay phone or wait until they got home to connect with someone. And, before answering machines and before email - there was no leaving a message or sending a text or dropping an instant note. 

See? No answers. Just thoughts. About writing the reality and keeping it real, even for those who weren't therein that time . Perhaps these are the thoughts of a still illness-influenced brain or reflection that I have lived long enough to see some of these significant changes in how we live. But they are thoughts - how to write the story of another time, when PCs and Macs and drones and smart phones and RFID chips were the things of science fiction. 

There is more to this, but this is long enough for now. The other thing I'm pondering that I will toss out there is why sometimes a character's use of a mobile phone seems out of place and unreal. Like it was stuck in as an afterthought to make the story seem more modern (perhaps it wasn't written with the phone in hand but the editor thought it needed to be added to make it real - but it doesn't fit). I don't have answers about this, yet, either - but have noticed that sometimes the presence and use of a cell phone in a story doesn't work.


Have you noticed any of these? Or something similar? How to write the not too distant past in a fast changing time period and still keep it real?