Thursday, April 21, 2011

Should Characters Text?

It's obvious that technology in the last 10 years or so has changed our daily lives to an extreme. Cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, texting...on and on the list goes, and it's growing every day. The way we communicate has changed, because of it. Face-to-face interactions have decreased, while phone-to-phone, computer-to-computer interactions have increased.

What does all this mean for the writer? For our characters, and the way they communicate with each other inside our stories?

To let our characters use technology or not use it -- that is the question.

First, I think writers have to learn to walk the tightrope of not letting technology interfere too greatly with characters/plot -- while at the same time being realistic with it (for instance, it would be almost unthinkable not to have a single mention of a character using a cell phone in a modern story).

Two main points worth considering, when it comes to characters and technology:

1) Character interaction.

In real life: Let's face it. Technology has created a new level of social rudeness. People flipping open phones in movie theaters or libraries, talking as loudly as they please, ignoring the scowls around them. I went out to dinner with an old friend recently, and she spent 90% of the meal texting someone else!! I was too nice to call her out, but honestly, it was just plain rude. She was having about five different conversations with people, and I was the last one on the totem pole, even though I was right there in front of her, live, and in person! Hrumph.

In fiction: When I have two characters out to dinner, I'm probably going to forgo the reality (people texting at the table!!) and allow my characters an actual conversation, face-to-face. (The exception, of course, is if I WANT to show that a character is rude, and therefore, might have him/her texting the entire time, lol. But unless there's a purpose to technology being at that table, I'm going to push technology aside, to favor actual character interaction).

2) Plot choices.

In real life: Looking up a long-lost friend or sweetheart is as quick and easy as spending five minutes on an internet search or hopping on Facebook. Wanna find that old boyfriend? Search for that long lost best friend you quit talking to in 1988? Just get online, do some quick searching, and voila!

In fiction: What if I want a character's search for someone to be slow? What if I want to let it simmer over 200 pages, have a character wonder and wait and second-guess herself as she tries - in vain - to find that lost love? It's not realistic, in a modern story, to have her be out of touch with technology, to the point that she doesn't even try an internet search. So, I have to get creative. Draw out the search. Have her look for that person online, but come up empty (that still happens, so it's in the realm of realism). In order to create tension, to have the reader wonder if/when a reunion will ever occur, I might have that lost love be untraceable. At least for awhile...

Funny thing is, the inspiration for this blog post came from an old episode of Seinfeld. I watched an entire episode devoted to a movie theater fiasco. Elaine, Jerry, George, and Kramer were supposed to meet at the movies, but things got in the way. In a comedy of errors, cabs got stuck in traffic, movies sold out, and everyone ended up missing each other (and the movie!).

Of course, it took place in the early 90's, when cell phones weren't attached to everyone's hip. And as I watched the episode, what cracked me up more than the episode itself was that I kept thinking, "If the characters could just whip out a cell phone and call each other, they could've all met up at the right time and the episode would be over in about 30 seconds." In that case, a cell phone would've changed the course of the plot entirely!

Bottom line - using technology or not using it in your novels is completely up to you. There's definitely a time and place for it in modern fiction (and, if it's ignored completely, it can make the story feel unrealistic). Even better, writers can use technology to their advantage, to make a plot more compelling and suspenseful (but that's a blog entry for another day....).


  1. Great post, and I agree. I think the bottom line is what it always is in writing - if it's necessary to the plot or character development, write it. If it's not...don't!

  2. Yes - I like that - if it's "necessary." Great question for writers to ask with every character/plot decision!