Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We're, Like, Y'know, in the FUTURE!

Today's post is kind of an extension of last week's Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi. But first, some lead-in.

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:

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)
Sometimes when reading, I feel like giving the characters and/or author the same response Queen-Bee Regina finally gave:

"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?

1 comment:

E.B. Black said...

I've thought about this when it comes to historical novels, but think it's next to impossible to be able to write a novel where characters' personalities are true to their time because a lot of them were racist and had other similar ideas about the world that would repulse a modern day reader. I think it would be interesting to read about, but not a good idea necessarily to write about.

As for futuristic novels? I have yet to write one and it makes me nervous. There's just so much to think about. Taking modern slang, ideas, science, and trying to figure out where we'll believably be years from now with all our discoveries and thoughts. Hard to do!