BY Judith Ross Enderle
Can you guess what and where the question was? I’ll tell you. This was 70 across in a crossword puzzle, (Bellingham Herald, Thursday, July 4, 2013.) The clue was: Better song, usually.
Yeah, I know. How many people know what side A means anymore?
Is your childhood “history?” There are a lot of details that change with time. It’s important for writers to be aware of what is and what is no longer as well as what was and when.
Just at technology rapidly changes, so does language. Rad, cool, excel, neato, hot, fab, square, dweeb, etc. go in and out of vogue almost before you can learn the latest word to describe what’s great and what isn’t. This is why it’s sometimes wise to avoid current slang or invent your own for your characters.
It’s not just slang that you have to check out. When did “okay” come into use? How about “green light?” And while “greenhouse” has been around since 1664, “greenhouse effect” dates to 1937. What? Did you think it was more current than that? Me, too. Check your Webster’s Ninth for dates.
Whether your story is set now, when you were a kid, or before you were born, you can’t avoid details that belong in the time period. What surrounds your character at home and away? What is the place like?
Dial phone or cel phone? Pay phone, yes or no?
What about the school year? How long? What months? In school: rulers, pencil cases, what kind of desks, black boards, green boards, chalk boards, slates, computers? Does the school in your story have a computer center or a library? What about pointers and maps and AV equipment?
Microwave? Frozen food? TV dinners? What’s for breakfast? What kind of snacks? Is a PB and J sandwich allowed at school? (That lunch favorite isn’t welcome these days in many schools because of allergies.)
Think about the television, the radio, the record player, cassette, CD or MP3. Do “ear buds” exist?
The lists could go on and on, like a time-line—which, by the way, is handy to have available. Do a Google Search for history timelines. You can be specific.: American History or Language History or . . . . I mentioned Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary for word usage dates. And it doesn’t hurt to have a Slang dictionary handy.
Putting your characters and your readers in place—it’s all in the details. So, before you send off that final draft, if you mention Side A, be sure it fits the time and place of your story.