I have a hard on for classic English Literature. Nothing I write can touch it. My style is completely different. But there are certain little details that I find appealing.
Most of my favorite novels aren’t timeless in the sense that they can take place in any era. I doubt that many books, if any, have that ability. It is quite the opposite quality that draws me in. I love reading books that are time stamped. Reading is time travel. I can read Jane Eyre and know what books and songs were popular at the time it was written. I can enjoy Anne of Green Gables and feel as if I understand what it meant to live before the industrial age.
This is creating difficult decisions in my writing process. I want to be as authentic and REAL as possible. Most mid-western Americans have and do shop at Target or Wal-Mart. I know a lot of people are against branding, and I am if it’s only for commercial purposes, but if everyone frequents a certain store, why be forced to use a generic term like “box store” or “bulk store” instead of the proper name?
My current WIP is a modern comedy and my main character Trish eats Lean Cuisines. A lot of women have. It’s a detail that means something to me. I will probably just say “frozen dinner” in the manuscript to appease the populous, a society of people who live and buy based on marketing but seem off-put by the reflection of that reality in fiction.
It’s considered “selling out” for a writer to put brands in their work and I understand that. Branding is everywhere. I hate it. Hell, we have to brand ourselves to get anywhere now. It’s exhausting.
I can leave out those specific descriptions, but I will not, I WILL NOT leave out the titles of favorite content. My favorite character in this unfinished novel LOVES disco (poor soul). She sings Donna Summer lyrics and dances to the Electric Slide. These are character consistencies. People love music and movies and books. Leaving that out of a story is unrealistic and stiff.
I tried just coming up with terms like, “popular party song” but that’s boring and stupid. If someone wants to roller blade to Celebration by the Village People, then that song is going to be mentioned. I can’t compromise that. If my main character lists The Watchmen as one of the most influential comics in her life, I’m putting it in there.
I have read so many books giving conflicting advice. some say to focus on more general details to make things more relatable, others say to name towns and streets and sometimes addresses and be as specific as possible to make the story feel real.
This is the best part of writing a first draft. Shit can be changed later. You can cut and/or paste. Elaborate or shorten. That’s what editors are for.
To me, timeless writing isn’t really timeless at all. Writing that lasts are the stories that properly document life in the times they was written. The Grapes of Wrath isn’t meant to literally reflect modern society, it can have figurative similarities, but what makes it so good, what makes me continue reading it again and again, is how real it is. Steinbeck was true to his time and he conveyed his feelings and his connection to the world at the time he wrote it in such a way that those emotions still touch readers.
Being able to create a piece that induces emotions of the same caliper the writer felt them years later is something I strive for. I often fear that I lack the skills and the talent to do so, but self-doubt is part of the job. If I keep at it. Who knows?
Only time will tell.