Modernizing Fiction and Emotional Disconnects with Readers

Please note– I know it’s been a god-awful amount of time since my last post.  This has been a topic I’ve wanted to discuss for months and finally have the time to dedicate to writing blog posts again.  It feels like a bit of a rant–I suppose it is.

Lately I’ve found myself very critical of the modern ficition being pumped out into the literary world.  After a few too many books, I began to question if some authors are secretly endorsing products mentioned in their novels.  Ok not really, but have you ever noticed the overwhelming amount of branding there are in some novels?  I can assure you that if you were to flip open any young adult novel at a Barnes and Noble, the main character will at least mention a few labels.  Whether it’s the Levi Jeans they’re wearing or the iPhone in their back pocket, there’s going to be a mention of some major label in there.  I know we want the readers to connect with the protagonist and supporting characters, but really?  Can we not just connect to these characters on a purely human/emotional level?  Do we really need product placement?

I’ve never read a scene and thought to myself “oh yeah I can relate to her disappointment that she received a Hummer rather than a  Porsche.”  It’s the same sort of disconnect you have watching soap operas.  There is no correlation between these characters and your own personal dilemmas.  Their struggles are entirely different than the average viewers.  I’m not the owner of a multi-million dollar fashion house, nor do any of my family have such connections.  I also seem to recall that I haven’t married the same man 14 times and been married to at least six other men.  Sure I’ve suffered heart break, but not in the way these characters have.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with product labeling to a certain degree.  I think in some ways, it is better to just describe items in a creative way, rather than mention labels.  Describe them in fine detail, to allow the reader a sense of how they look visually.  Just telling me it’s a Vera Wang does give me the faintest clue what I should be envisioning and only gives me an idea of the extravagant costs. If that is the purpose of mentioning the brand, that is fine.   Use labels to express a point–not just throw out names because “people will know these labels!”  An author once said something along the lines of “every word should serve a purpose.”  It’s a good practice.

If I were to publish a book now and list off a couple of major brands, who is to say those brands will exist in fifty or one hundred years?  Anyone reading the book that far in the future may have no idea what this label is–for all they know it’s fiction.  No matter the decade a book is written, I want people to connect to it.  Not by superficial brands that hold no real significance.   Not because smart phones are all the rage.  What has happened to characters and people relating by life?  Emotional conflicts?  Understanding and relating to their struggles?  What is your view on product labeling in fiction?  Do you find it acceptable or is it a nuisance?  How often do you use branding in your own work?