Friday, February 27, 2009




Revolutionary War Drum

Smithsonian, photo by LK Hunsaker


No, I don't mean dating as in going out for dinner. I'm talking about book dating - specifically, the way editors will tell you not to add anything to your novel that will "date" your book, such as listening to your 8-track tapes or mentioning specific currently popular bands.

I've been pondering this since it came up in a writing list. A writer was wondering whether to use a brand name or not because of trademark violations and dating the story. [It's not a trademark violation if you capitalize the brand name to show it's a brand name.]

But why is dating a story so horrible? Heck, I purposely date all of my novels. I have specific time periods in mind and make sure to make references to that time. My series even has dates as chapter headings. Why is this a bad thing?

I love reading novels and being pulled back into the time frame of the novel. While I can't mention any specific novel or author, I vividly remember being in a story where I have to take a term and put it into context because it's no longer applicable. But that's part of the fun of reading. It puts you elsewhere. It opens your small world and makes it larger.

It may depend on the story, but with mine being largely music-based and dealing with social issues, the time periods in which they are set are important to the story. I use specific band/musician references in all of them, and generally brand names, capitalized. Am I making them short-lived that way? I don't think so.

Gone With the Wind wouldn't work as well in today's setting. It has to be set during the Civil War in the south. Otherwise, where's the story?

Rehearsal is set in the 70s, moving into the 80s later in the series. The single-mother issue wouldn't be as big an issue now as it was then. Neither would the heroine being half Native American (termed as "Indian" in the series since it was still called Indian back then).

Is it expecting too much of a reader to put it into context of its time? I hope not. I hope readers have not become that lazy. Of course it's the author's job to be sure the story stays relevant through the years, as well, but being that critical about dating a novel seems unrealistic to me.

What do you think? If you run across a band name or song name you don't know, does it annoy you or does it persuade you to research a bit and check it out?


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Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Lorraine,

I also enjoy reading books that take me to a different moment through details such as music. I guess whether a book stays "fresh" largely depends on how good the story is. "Gone with the Wind" is a great example.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Francesca,

Thanks for your input! I imagine some readers will be curious enough to check on music they don't recognize and others will just go on past and not worry about it. So either way, it's not hurting the story. I'd like to be able to use actual song lines, but because of copyright, I settle for titles and anyone who wants to dig further can web search the lyrics. ;-)