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?

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The library- a sea of possibility

I don’t know about you, but I have this certain love for public libraries.  Sure, book stores are lovely.  Their books aren’t free though. . .and the stores are rarely quiet.  I could spend an entire day at the library, which I’ve done before many many years ago, when I had the time to spare and not quite so much responsibility.  Now a few hours at the library is a rare gift and one I cherish when given the chance.  Today was one of those rare days, but unfortunately due to someone oversleeping (I’m not going to name any names here. . .me) and my need for nourishment after skipping breakfast, my trip the library lasted a grand total of two hours.  Half an hour of it was spent communicating on Facebook. . .I feel shamed (at least I got that out of the way, right?  RIGHT?!).  So what all did I accomplish today?

Well, my first reason for going to the library was to do some research on Southern forests and plant life.  I realized just recently, as I was writing a scene in the forests (where a great deal of my first book takes place) that I knew very little of forests and the types of trees you would find.  Sure, you can find oak, birch, cedar, and pine, but what else can you find?  What different varieties of each are there?  And which ones commonly grow together?  So I set out to learn all I could, which was a lot, but unfortunately a great deal of that information came from a reference book, so I recorded a little and checked out a couple of other books that give more detail.  There is a plethora of forest information in this bag next to my desk. . .all waiting to be collected and stored in my little thinking box.

Another reason for going, was to enjoy the peace and quiet that I lack at home, even late at night/early mornings.  There is always noise in my house.  Always.  At 2am my brother may be on the Xbox, which means there will be plenty of gun fire, explosions, and giggling.  The noise makes it difficult for me to get any progress done whether on the computer or in my book journal.  I just recently started the book journal, feeling I needed something to help keep my thoughts and notes together.  My computer is full of notes I’ve written over the years, all varying so differently that it was time to have an official book of notes and information.  Today I was able to write down plenty.  Next trip out will be some chapter outlining, as I have made changes and need the notebook to reflect that.

The other reason I set out on a day of fun at the library, was for the books!  No research, just books to read for fun!  Libraries are a sea of possibility and adventure just waiting to be read.  From fiction to non-fiction, there are so many books that it would take you years to read them all.  I always stop at the fiction section and glance over the books.  Sometimes I go look up particular books in the online catalog, but in general I have no idea what I’m looking for and just dive in and find something.  Today I mostly used the catalog (I guess I wasn’t feeling that adventurous) and boy did I end up with quite a few books.  More than I had planned really.  Most were books that have film adaptations now and that I’ve heard are either good or have so much hype that I figured I’d give them a go.  Four out of eight books are fiction novels, while three were books on forests and one on expression in writing.  Lots of fun and interesting things to read.   I shall be making up a list of other books to check out my next trip, which I hope will be soon.

One of the nice things about going to the library in the summer is the lack of teenagers sitting huddled at desks and computers, jabbering on and making more noise than is required.  At the same time, it’s depressing to see so few young folks with interest in books.  The youngest person I saw was a five year old.  Come on, kids!  We gotta get you guys into reading more often!  Put down those tablets!  No no, I know you’re not reading on that thing.  You were just playing Candy Crush.  Put it down and pick up a good book.  There’s plenty out there.  More than you could ever dream of!