Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Embracing the digital age and other new technology

by Rick Blechta

No, this isn't an email about how everyone should learn to love their smartphone. Heck! That sort of advice shouldn’t be coming from me. I don’t even own one.

What I’m writing about today is getting up to date when new technology hits crime fiction. The world has changed profoundly in the 21st Century and a crime writer's plots have to reflect that or risk having your stories lose credibility with an audience that is quite at home with smart phones, computers and all the other new toys we've been given to play with.

This post comes because of an article I just read in the current issue of The Walrus, Canada's intellectual magazine. Since I have a subscription, I also have access to The Walrus online, so here is a link to the article in case you want to read it: “Narrative Devices: Rewiring the mystery novel for the digital age”. Hopefully, the link will open for you.

Even though there are some points I would quibble with (like giving way too much information from the plots of novels we might like to read!), I think the author makes some good points.

It's something I'm sure many of us have wrestled with. With the ubiquity of smart phones and computers, modern plots have to be much more savvy if they're to maintain credibility with readers. Sure, you can use dodges like, “She took out her cell phone and felt like screaming. Her battery was completely out of gas. Now there was no way to call for help.” But after awhile, these really won't wash. Even now, this sort of passage would certainly earn an eye roll or two from young hipsters.

Part of the issue certainly does come from “writers of a certain age” who are unwilling to use or unknowledgeable about new technology, but also pointed out in the article are younger writers who work out some sort of dodge — such as the example I gave above — to negate the influence of new technology might have on their plots. For each, this sort of smacks of laziness or taking the easy way out.

I believe it is possible to use new technology to help move a plot forward. Let's face it: it ain't going away. Don't use it and your story line will become anachronistic even quicker than it usually does anyway. Unless you're writing historical crime fiction, I see really no way out of incorporating new technology in your plots.

That does mean learning about it and the possibilities that new technology opens, but we all do a lot of research anyway, don't we? No big deal. Using plots that embrace new technology can also make your plot cleverer. For instance, how would your hero defeat bad guys who can use a smart phone to track every move the hero makes? Something clever could be done here (short of turning off the tracking feature in the phone).

Regardless of how you feel on the subject or what you do in your plots, new tech is here to stay. Don’t get caught in a Luddite trap! If you're setting a book in the present, you have to at least have a working knowledge of what is possible — simply to avoid driving into plot “potholes”. The last thing you want is a reader to think (or worse, say out loud), “Why the hell doesn’t he just take out his #$$%%@ cell phone?!”


Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

This is why Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series is so smart. She's up to X and only in 1982...when the fax machine was shiny and new. And yes, millennials reading this are probably saying: What's a fax? Should we tell them about the Telex?

Good post, Rick.

Rick Blechta said...

I think we should go all the way back to smoke signals, Judy!

New technology is certainly a conundrum, and I expect we crime fiction writers have a tougher time dealing with it since our stories are so plot-driven by their very nature. So add one more thing for the to-do list: check on all technological developments before you check the box saying "Done with this one!"

It's especially tough when you have no interest in such things. I do, but it's still a time-consuming effort.

Oh well...

Thanks for your thoughts!

Donis Casey said...

This is why I like writing historical novels. I'm too lazy to keep up with the fast pace of technology development, anyway. Even if I wrote a "contemporary" novel I'd have to set in 1999, since that's as up-to-date as my technological knowledge is.