Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Missed Call Is No Longer Possible

I marvel every time I use my smartphone. I can make phone calls, take pictures, talk to anyone in the world face to face or via any number of social media apps, find any piece of information I need, play games, read books, shop, read mail.


It's magical when you stop to think about it. Five years ago we couldn't do this.

Five years ago we could still use a missed phone call as a plot device. Or a message on an answering machine, with it's blinking light, waiting to be heard. Or a letter gone astray. Or Humphrey Bogart waiting in the rain for Ingrid Bergman. Today she would have texted him to tell him it was over and there would be no rain streaked goodbye note that reached him just as the train was puffing out of the station, out of Paris, and out of her life.

We can reach and be reached at any hour. We can know anything at any time. It is impossible--or at least very difficult and with many lame excuses involved--not to be reachable. I suppose someone can forget their smartphone at home, but SERIOUSLY, who does that? It's like my handheld brain at this point. You wouldn't leave home without your brain, would you?

All of this is to say that writing stories set in the contemporary world is quite difficult. Stories require a little bit of mystery or unknowing. A missed connection here or there.

For example, "Twilight" came out at the right time because it made more sense back then (yes, 2005 is back then. makes you want to cry, doesn't it?) because not every teenager was expected to carry a mobile phone. So there was mystery and wondering where he was, what he was, and if she would see him again.  If Twilight were published today it would consist entirely of Bella and Edward texting, snapchatting, facebooking and whatever else teens do when they're flirting. And the girls of Forks High School probably would have created a Tumblr page devoted to Edward, filled with pictures of him snapped on their phones. The Cullens would have been all over the internet and their cover blown pretty quickly. After all, fifty years later those photos will still be as fresh as the day they were taken. There will be no restarting life in a new town.

Which is perhaps why so many stories these days take place in the Eighties. Have you noticed? The Eighties were the last era before computers and cell phones were ubiquitous. The last time when you could curl the telephone cord around your finger while gossiping or had to run home before you missed a crucial call. In fact, the Eighties were probably the last time a public phone booth would have made sense in a story (though this fact did make an excellent plot device of its own in Phone Booth, but that's been done now and can never be done again.).

What I'm struggling with is how to leave in the mystery, the missed connections, unknowingness of things when everything can be known.

Any tips?