Monday, 27 June 2016

Setting Your Book in Time

Good morning Bookaholics. I bring you this post from a sunny Scotland. I'm thinking about writing and reality this morning. This before I've even had my morning cornflakes.

As I write this blog the UK has been to the polls. This was a momentous vote the results of which will have a huge impact on our country, not only now but for many years. Now, before you get worried this is not a political post. Far from it in fact. This is a post about writing.

As writers we always strive for accuracy and to make our books as realistic as possible. We take great care to set the books in context and to give readers a sense of place and time. It is time which I am thinking of and debating in my head today. Do we pin our colours fully to the mast, ensuring accuracy, or do we use some other means to get our point across?

My post so far has been unambiguous. I have not referred to any particular poll. Anyone reading this post today will know exactly what I am talking about. Anyone in the future will get a general sense that something big has happened but it will not be dated. For the purposes of clarity I am talking about the EU Referendum. Now that I have said this I have now given a firm date stamp to my writing. This is necessary for this particular piece.

But, as writers, what do we do in our books? We often write, Johnny was playing with his Xbox, or Susan was watching such and such a movie. This gives a sense of realism and is what gives our book human touches. It also immediately sets the book in a particular time. Obviously, in a historical novel, this is a good thing. There is a difference between historical and dated.

So how do we, as writers, handle this? One way is to use ambiguous writing as I did at the start of this piece. The reader will immediately fill in the blanks and use whatever poll has happened most recently. Another is to use real life examples which are not going to change any time soon. For example using an Apple computer, or Famous Grouse Whiskey. This may be a bit more difficult when talking about technology, especially which youngsters use.

It is an interesting concept. I would be interested in your views on this. All advice will be gratefully received in the comments below.


  1. This is an interesting post. I used to take so long to write my novels that, by the time they were ready for publication, they were dated and, since I write contemporary fiction, I had to go back through and update any references to technology, etc. Obviously, once they are published they will quickly become dated in that respect because advances in technology are accelerating at an alarming rate. But at least I feel I ought to try to have them contemporary at the time of publication.
    One way I have gotten around that problem is to give my writing a higher priority in my life and get them written in months rather than years - something I'm enjoying immensely.
    Another way might be to try to predict what might change in the next few years or months, but I think that's outside most of our capabilities. Let's face it, even the weather and the polls seem outside our capabilities to predict accurately :-)

  2. Good points Catherine. In some ways there will be a slightly dated feel as everything changes so fast now.