Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Day Is It? And What Year? Have I Gone Back In Time Again?

You ever stop to think about the time you're living in? How the era you grew up in shaped who you are? And how ridiculous it is that we're now living in the future and everyone has a computer in their pocket and they're using it to look at cat videos and send people pictures of their junk rather than curing cancer or developing a universal translator?

115 years ago, we couldn't get an aircraft off the ground. Less than 50 years ago, we put a guy on the moon and managed to not leave him there. Now we've got robots on Mars. That's impressive, people. Be god damn impressed.

I had a point to all this, though it's gotten away from me because I am constantly amazed that we're living in the god damn future. We take for granted the time that we're living in.

Oh. Right. Time.

That's where I was going.

I've started wondering about the time period I choose for a given story. How do I decide if something is past, present, or future? And a lot of it comes down to technology. Namely, what tech do you need, or often, not need.

See, cell phones are great. They keep you connected. All the time. Say you've got a story idea in mind, where the protagonists get into some trouble, and need to not be able to just call for help. So you've got to cut them off. Sometimes that means throwing them in a jungle with no cell service. Sometimes it means throwing them in 1967. Or 1492.

Sometimes you need a technology that's not currently available. Commercial space travel. Time machines. Hoverboards. Then you go future, even if it's only twenty minutes into the future.

The other reason for setting a story in a given time period is because the story itself demands it. The subject fits a certain time. My first NaNo novel involved Nikola Tesla and a handful of literary characters up against Jack the Ripper, who was in fact a morlock from the future. Now, the Ripper murders were in 1888, so there we are. If I had chosen a different historical scientist or a different serial killer, I might have set the story in a different time.

Now, it was more the first reason, the tech, in case of the story I'm working on. Still. Yes, I'm still trying to revise it. I have my little outline and everything. But there was a need for a certain lack of technology in it. Really, a lack of security, since the main character is a convict, being transported by train. Now, we probably wouldn't do that nowadays. We'd use a bus with bars in the windows and a couple of armed guards. But prompt said, "You're shackled to a ball and chain in a train bound for prison." And who are we to argue? So I had to figure out when would be an appropriate time period for that. Somehow or another it ended up in the 1930's. That's the vibe it had, I guess. My notes would seem to indicate that's it's 1934, but that's not explicitly stated anywhere.

And that's one issue with setting anything in a time other than now. How do you bring it up?

That first NaNo novel, A Matter of Time, just started every chapter with the date. It involved time travel, so that was probably a safe bet, but that was a thing I used to do all the time. I'm not sure why. For some reason I had this thing about knowing exactly what day it was in a story, all the time. I don't do that anymore. Now, they exist outside of time. And no one ever knows what day it. Or even what year. And when it's not set in the present, that's a problem.

So "My Soul to Take," this thing we're working on, apparently takes place in 1934. But there is nothing to tell us that. I feel like this a setting, describing, world-building sort of issue that I always struggle with. And to be fair, there's not a lot of setting here. There's a train, and there's a creepy ass mansion. I'm not sure how to make either one scream "1934." Okay, then there's the characters. Jake is an Australian-born murderer (only one of those facts is actually in there). Evie is fresh-made orphan of about 18. These people do not scream "1934." But they should. They should be a product of their time, shaped by the era they grew up in.

Maybe the year isn't important, in a story this short. Maybe I should just write it rather than wondering if it explains itself well enough. As long as the plot makes sense, in and of itself, does the time frame matter?

What do you think, readers? Do you find yourself wondering when a story is meant to take place? Or do you just go along for the ride, regardless?

I'll see you Friday.

1 comment:

  1. There are sneaky ways to inject timeline into a short story.. articles of clothing is a great one, dialog and dialect can also assist. The train and other "technologies" will help too. Those little hints can easily shape the timeframe without screaming it to the world. Whenever I'm writing, I try to find easy ways like this give the vibe I want and the direction of the story. I don't wonder, as I often have that solid before I write a word, just like I have the story problem and usually at least a character. Hope this helps.