Friday, November 6, 2015

Writing Craft: The Trouble with Cell Phones & YA Literature

I just watched a CNN documentary called "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens." Short form: Kids use their phones too much and often unwisely.

While my first thought was that social media could not be ALL THAT BEING 13 was about, my second though was, WHOA. Could social media be playing such a massive part it the world of MANY TEENS that this is the sum-total of the not-all-that-scientific CNN report?

I have heard mystery and horror authors comment on the challenges of writing thriller-style plots in the age of the CELL PHONE. I mean, how many times can a battery die or a teen find him/herself on a wi-fi-free island? But, I think this is only the tip of the iceberg.

An anecdote: As an alumni interviewer for my undergraduate school, I am given a roster of teens and told that they should make first contact with me (instead of my tracking them down). Their first method is almost always email--I was astonished when one kid actually phoned me. Thinking about this, I've realized that even my sons prefer to be reached via text (versus old-school call). Perhaps the cellphone/text/IM dynamic has changed teens' comfort levels over interpersonal interactions. In writing fiction, it would be implausible for a kid to work out pick-up logistics with a parent via phone call, or for a group of teens to arrange a club meeting by anything other than group text. And this leads us to the use of acronyms and other lingo that seep into all forms of dialogue--even the spoken kind--such as when my son says, "JK, mom" (just kidding).

As I revise my current novel, I have added another (and there are MANY) manuscript read-through for TECHNOLOGY. As I re-read the text, I ask myself:

  • Would this really be a conversation, a text, or something else?
  • If a character is having difficulty communicating with a parent or other older adult, how might social media help/interfere/be implied?
  • Is there enough social media in the text to make the lifestyle of the protagonist seem realistic?
  • To what types of social media does my MC subscribe? Does my MC use internet technology in other important ways (e.g., YouTube, watching NetFlix, restricted school web services)?
  • What kind of phone does the protagonist have, where does s/he keep it, what are the school rules about phones, etc.?
  • Without being too trendy, are there technology-based expressions that might authenticate dialogue or description in the story?
  • Are there any plot gaps that might be helped/hindered by internet access?

Wow, another revision layer. Ugh. And TTFN (okay, that's an oldie, but you get it).