Tip #25: Writing For The 21st Century

21st century

I’ve noticed myself doing something when I read a novel which wouldn’t have been possible in the last century, or at least not as easy to do.

Are you ever reading a book with a webpage open on your phone or computer at the same time, doing a quick Google search if you encounter something you aren’t familiar with? This could be a word, concept, event or place.

It may be something which is only relevant to specific genres. I know it applies to historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi.

Let’s say you’re reading one of the above genres, and a character refers to the Battle of Agincourt, Mongolian Death Worm or Coriolis effect. It might not have an immediate impact on the story, the author has only included it to add depth to the background. You’d still like to know what they’re talking about, so you look it up. [I tend to have at least five Wikipedia tabs open at any time]

I think writers in the twenty-first century can take this phenomenon further.

In my current work-in-progress, some scenes are set in Lambeth Palace, medieval London. Should I go into depth about its appearance, location, structure, history and usage? Why bother if not every reader wants to know these details? As a writer, you can work on the assumption that the extra knowledge has already been provided by past authors, or may be accessed quickly online by the reader.

My take on all of this is that there is now less of a need for writers to go on a tangent, adding detail to the background facts of the story.

This gives the reader a choice: to either google or carry on in ignorant bliss.

Having greater choice in your work means appealing to a wider audience. How can that be a bad thing? Write less, focus on the main narrative, reach more readers. That’s an aspect of the internet surge we can get on board with.

Let me know in the comments if this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?


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12 thoughts on “Tip #25: Writing For The 21st Century

  1. I do feel that, especially when I am reading on my kindle. I try and make use of only the “highlight” feature and not the other tech-savvy things on offer. I always blissfully ignore finding out something I’m not familiar with when I am reading casually. If the writer doesn’t provide me with an explanation, I don’t worry about it too much. In fact, if he/she did, I’d be more prone to check it out, because it has provoked my curiosity. Otherwise, I am fine, and would prefer not to be so “wordly” wise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You definitely can’t please everyone, but I think there’s a certain amount of balance you have to find with description and setting. If you write too little, some people might view you as lazy. If you write too much, some people might think you’re showing off. I’m not familiar with any of those places you referenced, so for me, I’d much rather you said some thing about the setting in the story. But then, that’s me.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I definitely can relate to this post. When writing my first novel, I kept thinking about my reading experience with “The Waste Land”: it was a pleasure to read, evoking powerful images and hinting and darker mysteries. Following the myriad paths of research provided by the notes, I eventually ended up with a Religious Studies minor! I wanted to write something like that, a book that could be enjoyed at face value, but hinted at deeper mysteries. I considered footnotes and other types of references, and thought that was too pretentious. Then one of my readers responded to an early sample that he had researched many of the names in the text and was surprised to find there was so much actual history in the book. He did exactly what I do, and exactly what you have suggested: Google searching while reading. So, yeah, it’s the 21st century. Just another item to add to the list of why the author should trust the reader. It’s a relationship we must honor: a good bit of the story happens inside the reader’s head.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I do this all the time while reading. Sometimes it’s to satisfy curiosity, other times to alleviate confusion and occasionally out of perversity.

    Writing with this in mind can help a story fly as you aren’t bogged down in details that may add color but don’t promote the narrative. I think you need to be careful with minimalist writing though as you can easily define accidental negative spaces this way.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sorry, I don’t agree with this – I hate it if I have to look something up, unless it’s a definition using the Kindle dictionary – it interrupts the flow of the story and breaks the spell, for me. Then again, I’m an old lady so I’m more resistant to technology. I agree not too much detail, but at least a brief bit of background info is good.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a 2 device reader, too. Maybe that’s why it takes me so long to finish a book? I like a moderate amount of info in the narrative, enough that if the story is exciting I don’t need to look it up right away. It’s really cool when you know the author and can pester them with questions, too! 😜

    Liked by 1 person

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