And I don’t even have a DVD collection. I have VCR tapes. I also have movies I download. Yes, folks, I admit, I download movies from the Internet. Illegal, you say? Let’s not get into that particular issue. And let’s totally stay away from my downloading television shows, about which I’ve also been contacted not only by my cable provider but the Download Police, the latter of which has a stupid argument for binking me. (They get me downloading CSI: New York, but not for other CBS shows? What the hec? And why don’t they go after the uploaders? In other words, why nail the drug users without going after the drug dealers?)
Anyway, moving on. The topic is updating technology. This is tricky because writers take months, nay years sometimes to complete a book. If it involves technology and you want the story to stay current, then how often do you change things in the story?
I ran into this problem while writing Beta. The title itself is the perfect example. I had the idea for the novel back in the late 90′s. Editing and rewriting it several times in the middle of the last decade I realized I had a problem. I had included technology I used in my younger years and looking at the plot, questioned why anybody would still be using it.
Okay, quick plot blurb. My detective, Mallory Petersen, is on the trail of a kidnapped girl, who is being used and abused by a child pornography ring. In the story, I have a photographer taking pictures of her using a camera with film. I have the criminals developing the film to put the pictures into illicit magazines. I have the criminals making movies and, originally, putting them on beta style videotapes. Remember those?
So, I’m sitting around one day re-reading this story for the umpteenth time and I suddenly realize: hardly anybody uses real film anymore. My local camera store hasn’t stocked Kodak or Fuji film for years. And Beta tapes? It’s a DVD world. Who uses videotapes anymore, let alone Beta tapes? And in what year did I want this story set? 1985 or present day? Oops!
Now what? I thought the Beta title pretty cool but how did I resolve the technology issue? I don’t get into the details of how Mallory’s office manager/partner uses his hacker/cracker computer skills to obtain information the public usually isn’t allowed to see. (They say write what you know. I know martial arts, not hacking, and I didn’t want to get too deep into that.)
My solution was to upgrade the movies to DVD, but keep Beta as the code word perverts use when contacting the distributors of these child pornography movies. As for the 35 mm film usage, I couldn’t rewrite the scene where Mallory discovers the place where the magazines are published. I couldn’t make it work another way. So I kept the scene as is, but added in a couple lines of dialogue to explain that the boss man enjoyed the grainy, old time look of real film.
Problem solved to my satisfaction. Plus, nobody has come back and complained it wasn’t believable. (And if you’re the first person who does, I will burn the word beta into your front lawn and let the air out of your tires…after first thanking you for buying and reading my book.)
Technology wasn’t the only problem I had with Beta. Landscape was another issue. When I started the novel, Des Moines hadn’t entered its let’s-go-nuts-with-new-construction-projects phase. By the time I finished, downtown Des Moines was barely recognizable. The building I used for Mallory’s office and neighboring businesses were no more. They were torn down and replaced with a parking garage, a cubicle-city office building, or a park for schlocky art exhibits. I can’t remember which, but I was stymied by the fact I couldn’t point out to friends the actual building my babe detective uses.
My solution: I ignored the new construction. I kept Mallory’s building and one nearby restaurant. I don’t mention too many downtown buildings. I kept the empty acreage in front of another office building despite the fact it has evolved into a man-made overgrown jungle to give the idea that there is not a complete mindset of steel and pavement to downtown. I also kept a gas station/auto mechanic for the most recent book, Alpha, of which the actual building vanished and a mini strip mall built in its place within six months. I liked the old station on that intersection, I wasn’t about to find another place.
You have to be aware of the ever changing technology and landscape and how you want to deal with it in your stories. I’ve heard a computer is no longer the latest thing after six months. How intricate do you want to get in your story? Will it still work or be believable after you’ve completed the book?
Use your creative license. You’ve earned it. You have that option. Don’t drown in technology. Use what you need and dispense with the rest.
Now if I could only get my VCR to stop flashing twelve o’clock.