Trends come and go. What’s in today is gone tomorrow. These are not so much writing tips as lessons I learned … the hard way.
In the traditional publishing world, life moves slowly. Two years often pass between when you type ‘The End’ and when you get to see your book for sale. Even if you self-publish, six months often fly by as you self-edit, pay a professional to tell you what’s wrong and make everything right.
I first published The Armchair Bride in 2008. When revising the story for recent republication (available now from all good booksellers), I found my world littered with period detail. The main character often checked her email in an internet café. She used a fax machine and a Blackberry. She had to find a place to plug in her laptop (tablets and smart phones were the expensive stuff of dreams). My characters wore bleached denim, drank alcopops and smoked in bars. In one surreal scene, a train left Manchester on time.
Timeless writing tips
It’s easy enough to avoid pitfalls. Here are five writing tips to consider as you tackle any work in progress.
Technology – Stay generic. This very morning, Alexa woke me. I read headlines on my iPad. I told Nest to turn up the heat. Someday, we’ll get the rubber self-parking cars promised back in the 70s by BBC’s Tomorrow’s World.
Websites – Apart from corporate lawyers who get twitchy about brand abuse, there’s a good chance of any website vanishing overnight. In the first draft of The Armchair Bride, Lisa used Ask Jeeves. Don’t rely on Google, Tinder or Uber to be around tomorrow. Have your characters ‘search online’, ‘scan a dating app’ or ‘fish out their phone and hail a cab’.
Politics – It’s an effective way to frame a world or the mood of a nation in which to set stories. If your tale needs to exist in a specific time, you’re on safe ground. Even so, avoid throwaway name-checks for Brexit, UKIP, Corbyn, Trump or May. By the time you publish, they’ll sound hacky.
Celebs – Much the same as politicians, they’ll be forgotten tomorrow. That’s showbusiness. Reality show winners enjoy a limited shelf life. A good writer creates a (thinly disguised) version of their target.
Television/Film/Theatre – With streaming TV, short attention spans and big studios remaking classics, it’s best to avoid specifics. Ready, Steady, Cook was huge. Today it’s Bake Off. In two years … who knows?
Cities and towns change. Shops shut down. Newspapers and magazines vanish from the stands. Trends become deeply untrendy. National treasures blot their copybooks.
Find ways to make your fiction timeless.