Those of you who are on Twitter may know that @AngelaJames (executive editor at Carina Press) occasionally does an #EditReport session where she shares quotes from her editors on why manuscripts were rejected, then concludes with quotes on acceptances. In a recent session, the following tweet popped up:
"Characters read more like contemporary characters dropped in an historical world rather than being authentically historical." #editreport
— Angela James (@angelajames) June 25, 2012
I've noticed the same problem occasionally in science fiction, most particularly in YA. The characters are a little too much like teenagers of today plunked down in some futuristic setting. When that happens, it doesn't matter how much awesome world-building you've done. Your characters reveal it all to be cardboard backdrops on a junior high stage.
Would characters in your story still wear jeans? I mean, jeans have been around a while, so maybe, especially if it's near-future. But maybe not. Would they still say "cool" or "awesome" or "creeper" or "legit"?
It's a dilemma, though. Especially that bit about the language. Any type of current slang in a definitely-not-current setting will knock me right out of the story. On the other hand, I know invented slang is tricky, often making readers feel like these out-of-the-blue words are being shoved down their throats.
Remember the bit in Mean Girls where poor Gretchen tries to force her own slang upon the world?
|(where I got this)|
"Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen. It's not going to happen."
With my own efforts at invented slang, I've tried to make it as organic as possible. Often what I do is take something current and twist it a bit. So far, it's gotten good reactions from people who are ordinarily pretty picky about such things.
We don't know what the future will be like. We don't know what teenagers then will be like. That's part of the fun of writing science fiction. At the same time, we want these characters to have a core that our modern-day readers can relate to. So it's yet another balancing act for us to manage.
Do you have any tricks for making futuristic teens futuristic enough without losing their common thread with teen readers? Any pet peeves about too-contemporary elements showing up in a far-removed time period?