“Dated” Language

From my recent post on the childrens-writers list serv at yahoogroups.

As a writer of “contemporary” stories, I’ve found it impossible not to date my books somehow.

A complete lack of current slang is often said to result in a “timeless” story, but in reading such prose, I often find myself thinking, “Wow, you can really tell a babyboomer wrote this.” That distracts me and breaks me out of the magic of the fiction.

All language comes from somewhere and somewhen. It’s best to avoid trendy words to the extent practical, but beyond that, you just have to be true to the voice of the character and hope for the best. I’d rather pick up a book set in the 1980s and enjoy the 80s voice than read bland “contemporary” prose.

Likewise, the technology is always changing. My novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), was one of the first that integrated the Internet into its plot and themes. It’s still reflective of current technology, but should it miraculously stay in print another ten years, I doubt that will still be true.

We can fudge here and there–and I certainly do–to stretch the timeliness (or should that be timelessness?). But specificity often translates to believability. And believability is key. If we don’t believe, we don’t care, and we don’t keep turning the pages.

Theoretically, the best contemporary fiction should in time takes its place among the best historical fiction.

Cynsational Links

An Interview with Peter Abrahams, author of Down The Rabbit Hole (Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, 2005) from

Esther Hershenhorn debuts her official author Web site. Esther also is a first-rate speaker, writing teacher, and writing coach (if you’re looking for an in-the-know critiquer, she’s my number one recommendation). Esther’s books include: There Goes Lowell’s Party, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers (Holiday House); Chicken Soup By Heart, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Simon & Schuster); The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut (Holiday House); and Fancy That, illustrated by Megan Lloyd (Holiday House). Learn more about Esther!

“On The Verge” July 5 at the YA Authors Cafe with Jennifer Jacobson, author of Stained (Atheneum, 2005), and Mary E. Pearson, author of A Room On Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, 2005). Hosted by Marlene Perez, author of Unexpected Development (Roaring Brook, 2004). All chats are Tuesdays at 8:30 EST, 7:30 Central.