Technology in Stories

As TV Tropes has an entire page about, cell phones are still hard to work into stories for some reason. Maybe we’re all still used to them being part of the future, like in sci-fi TV shows and such. One of my favorite books about writing, How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman, makes mention of this–in the past nobody had cell phones, and there are lots of stories from back then that would be totally different with cell phones. If you’re writing in an era that has them though, you at least need to remain aware that at least someone probably has one–unless you’re dealing with my dad in which case he might’ve forgotten or intentionally left it at home. Or you’re dealing with me, who hates all phones and refuses to have one. But I still have a tablet, and I’m at least gonna email somebody, even if they don’t respond.

My first two novels, Slubes and Darmenzi, featured protagonists from a small village–only a couple characters even have regular phones. So that wasn’t much of a big deal… except in retrospect I’m not sure why Zeth didn’t have one, but does have a phone in his vehicle. Ah well, what’s past is past. Maybe he was trying to hack his phone and install wings on it or something and he broke it. He doesn’t live at a place where he could buy another one, anyway.

In Wandering Fortunes, the protagonists again begin living in a very rustic area, so they have no cell phones. Then they move to the big city… so of course they’re going to get cell phones! Now I have to deal with this malarkey! Well, the first time it really becomes pertinent it actually makes more sense for them to not have them–they’re put in prison, of course their stuff’s going to be confiscated. But for the most part I actually have a note while editing, and one of my passes I actually keep cell phones in the back of my mind. “They have them, is there a reason to use them?”

Now then, the reason I didn’t call this “Cell Phones in Stories” is I also apparently have trouble remembering that cars are a thing. At New Zhopolis the main characters are always running around; initially they don’t have a vehicle, and at a big city I suppose I can imagine traffic being so bad that it’s easier to get around walking. It’s also particularly troublesome when there are few parking spaces. But you know what probably does exist? TAXI SERVICES. Buses! And if you’re going halfway across the city you’re probably not gonna run there!

A lot of times this probably doesn’t matter because you’ll show the characters once they’ve arrived, not on the way, but you’d better believe I had a chapter where they ran halfway across the city and when I started editing I was like “why are they running halfway across the city?? they’re in a hurry so they won’t wait for a bus but did you know there are services now where you can call (maybe with a cell phone??) and someone will drive to where you are to drive you somewhere??? I’ve used one before! what? no i’m not talking about uber. i think these are local. although an uber service would definitely be something you could easily have in a story, but honestly the only difference between it and taxis i can imagine is one of them probably isn’t unionized, and obviously you should make sure your fictional characters are properly unionized. what were we talking about? who are you, anyway?”

Anyway. Check your email. Then check your spam folder. Thank you.

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