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How to Date Your Story

2015 August 19

How to Date Your StoryOkay, I’m not talking about taking your manuscript out to a movie or sharing a candlelight dinner for two. No, the type of dating I’m writing about is not good for a novel.

Some authors like to bring items into their story that they feel make the work relevant for the moment. To do so often indicates that the author is shortsighted in his or her goals for what is being presented to the reader.

I’d like to share a few of the details that will date your book so that in the future, readers will be less likely to take it seriously:

Cover Details:

Recently, I was asked to review my church library for any titles that were outdated. In actuality, the subject matter of both the non-fiction and fiction titles had not gone out of style. Truth is Truth. However, when I looked at the covers of the books in our collection, I was transported back to leisure suits and bell-bottom pants. Some covers even had women with bouffant hairstyles and men with thick mustaches and thicker black framed eyeglasses. I recoiled from those books. The images triggered a time past, and whether the material inside was valid or not, I didn’t want to read them. Others apparently didn’t care to look at them either, because they had been on  shelves for years. Not any longer.

Yes, times do change, and unless you’re writing a historical, make sure that the people on the covers, the items depicted, and the scenery will not appear dated in the future.

Electronics and Other Technological Wonders

What might be cutting edge to us today, will be old-school tomorrow. I’ve told this story many times, but while managing my son’s Little League concession stand, kids would come to the side door to use the phone. One day a young boy asked if he could call his parents to pick him up. I said sure. I was busy working, and when I finally turned to look at the child, he stood, staring up at the black box hanging on the wall. Now, this was in the days before cellphones, and push-button phones were the norm. The kid turned and said, “Mrs. Lamb, how do I use this phone?” He had absolutely no idea how to use a rotary dial telephone. However, when I was a kid, that’s the only phone we had, and we were lucky to have the one in our home.

Today, iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones, and other brand names are the must-haves. In a year from now, a new innovative technology might take the place of the current brand names. Look at what Apple has presented already.

The one assurance we have, is that phones will more than likely always be relevant. So providing generic terms will keep a story from becoming dated before its time.

Names of Celebrities, Song Titles, Movies and Other Cultural References:

Believe it or not, your kids don’t know the names of some of your most loved celebrities, television shows, or song titles from the past. Likewise, I don’t know the names of many of the artists, songs, and shows that my children and grandchildren watch, and when I sit and watch or listen with them, I feel as if time has passed me by. Placing cultural references such as these into a story will truly date a manuscript or some of the references might go above an older reader’s head.

So for those writers who like to drop names and other reference into a novel, here’s an example of why it shouldn’t be done:  If she hadn’t looked twice, she would have thought the man before her was Peter Noone…”

Now, a very few of my generation might get the reference, but for those who haven’t a clue of Peter Noone’s identity or description, this reference goes beyond my generation to my sister’s generation, thirteen years older than me. Peter Noone was the lead singer of a very popular band in the early sixties called Herman’s Hermits. Can you imagine a ’60’s rock star look for a hero in a contemporary novel? I didn’t think so.

Okay, do you want a more recent example. A few years back, all the little girls were fawning over a young, clean-cut, all-American young man named Justin Bieber. He was just so cute and adorable. Girls loved him. Guys hated him. If he had been used in a novel to describe a teen hero, everyone would think of this nice kid. Now, if someone read that book written not too long ago, those who know who he is would most likely make a face and might even take a dislike to the hero. Most readers wouldn’t think of him as hero material.

Name dropping, whether it be celebrities, songs, movie titles, or brand names should be avoided in contemporary novels. The place for name dropping is historical novels where a mention of an individual, a title, or an item might bring a bit of nostalgia for the reader. Be careful, though, and make sure that the names being used are shown in a nice light. You wouldn’t want to get yourself or your publisher into trouble.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at



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