Friday, January 8, 2010

OMG Technology is Making Writing Fools of Us All By Robert W. Walker

We finally manipulate our character into the deep morass that could be her demise…ratchet up the senses, the sound effects, the atmosphere, the creepiness when suddenly she fumbles for but of course drops the cell phone she’s reached for so as to call for backup or help or hubby. Sometimes the darndest things happen at the most inconvenient of moments in the story—just like real life sometimes. There have been grumblings among readers about characters misuse of this, that, or the other gizmo in mysteries of late. Mysteries have always incorporated the latest in technology and sometimes even employ science fiction when the story calls for a device not yet invented but needed to move the story along. Does it make sense? Is it playing fair with the reader? It likely depends on the reader and the number of times a device has not worked or worked to save a protagonist in the nick of time.

I have always worked to incorporate current gadgets, gizmos, and technology in my stories; in one I made a case for any nutcase with a PC can set himself up as a Religion of the ONE—and like facebook and twitter, wow, the nutcase gets followers. What easy prey are our young. I have had serial killers logging in, setting up websites, enticing victims. Technology as a means to evil ends. But I have also kept up with police science, forensics, the cutting edge means to good ends.

In Absolute Instinct for instance, I had Dr. Jessica Coran use a cell phone with a built in live GPS camera pinpoint her whereabouts when the killer and Coran face off in the final scene. But this is nothing new as in my first published novel, SubZero, set in the distant future of 2010 was jam filled with interesting technology like a climate control wall unit to escape the stress of a new Ice Age as well as a nuclear powered building. This was a book published in 1969 and is today an ebook for Kindle readers.

A writer using technological marvels in his or her book must treat them like any other prop; they can’t just pop up and not be put to use, for instance—they should be in the scene for a reason, and that reason may come clear twenty chapters down the road. If you give a character a cane that also acted as a phone for instance, the cane-phone has a reason for being in the story to begin with. Rent the Kevin Bacon horror spoof film TREMORS to see an absolutely perfect use of props from a pogo stick to a pair of pliers and an old Coca Cola machine. Every prop, big and small, is in the “frame” for a reason and is put to use if not then and there then in an upcoming scene. Go see the new Holmes film for use of props introduced – almost to a one, every prop that pops up is put to use either then and there or in the next scene or the last scene, but it gets used and has a reason for being on hand. Some films are so heavily invested in current technology as part of the ongoing story as in Hackers. It had to use technology, but Holmes uses the technology of his day.

Techno gadgets can become a nuisance rather than a help, however, if you spend three, four, five pages discussing their inner workings; this is tedious and unnecessary. It is the downfall of most young people who want to write science fiction, some who write an entire scene just to explain how a machine works. Do any of us know how a microwave works? Do we need to in order to use the machine? If there is a reason for the reader to take a lesson on gamma rays? Ifffff so, by all means explain them but do so in dialogue and with characters engaged and in action. Never allow fat paragraphs to build up; never stop your story to describe a person, place, or thing, no matter what sort of fascination you may find in the gizmo. If it is essential describe it while at the same time keeping your characters in action and in movement. “Rip those copper pipes out and bring them to me, now!” shouted Simone.

“What’re you doing?” he asked.

“The pipes! Now, damn it!”

And for goodness sakes if you have a dog or a cat or an infant in your story, don’t forget the fact; no disappearing animate creatures who come and go only when you need them. As for a cane or a flask of whiskey, be sure they are not forgotten once remarked upon. In my Children of Salem, the 1692 postal system in Early New England is not so reliable, and I pepper in clues to that effect, and it comes back to bite our somewhat naïve character who believes anything he places in the mails is a private matter (nothing like emails of today, eh?).

So watch your props and your technology, no matter the time period you are writing about, and Happy New Year and Happy Writing one and all – and do leave a comment!


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