Friday, March 8, 2013

Novel plot challenges modern day technologies bring

When you try to write a novel or short story set in the ‘pre-Internet and mobile phone’ era, you realize how these technologies have changed our lives. I’m trying to write a novella (my third attempt to write one having failed twice before to take my attempts to conclusion) which starts from the early 80s and ends somewhere towards the end of the last decade, 2010s (roughly), spanning 30 years. Such being the timeframe of it, half of it is set in the period before the Internet and mobile phones arrived. While writing situations, I realized how the two technologies govern our lives today making them very different from the lives before the  arrival of mobile phones and the Internet.

The plot traces Anoop Nandi through his stay in Bangalore in the 80s and what happens to him after he leaves the city - all the way to current times with other characters coming in as the plot progresses. The novel is not about Anoop alone but three friends who had lived in Bangalore in the 80s and how their lives unfolded later, each representing a separate perspective on life.

The first half of the novel is set in the 80s. Anoop and I stay in Bangalore as friends and colleagues but we can talk and exchange details about each other only when we meet in office or each other’s residences, physical places. These physical places are important for us to stay connected, to exchange details about each other and so on. (Being migrant workers in Bangalore we didn’t have landline phones and landline connections were very difficult to get those days anyway.) In modern times, mobile phones and of course social networking sites would play the role of a connecting platform. You wouldn’t necessarily need an office or someone’s residence to be in touch with your friend. This makes our lives today very different from the pre-cell-phone-Internet times.

And being used to our modern lives as we are, you have to constantly remind yourself while writing a plot based before the advent of modern communication technologies that a lot of what we take for granted today were not available then. So a person had to either have a landline at home or go to a public booth to phone someone up. A person had to send a telegram to give an urgent news to someone else. Etc.

You can best feel these time-gap differences when you are building a tight situation-based plot: how a character is informed by another character about an accident that suddenly killed someone close to the character being informed; if two characters have to be separated for a period such that they completely lose track of each other, in ‘pre cell phone Internet’ times it would be very easy to do them part, but today due to social networking sites it’s almost impossible for two persons to be untraceably lost to each other.

I’m struggling with these details particularly because my plot is based in both pre and post communication revolution times, but these are just auxiliary details for my plot – they may convey dynamics of the times in which an action is set, but they don’t contribute to the essential plot. Albeit, for, say, detective stories where small details actually form the main plot, the technology angle can make lot of difference and present a challenge to the author. First he/she has to decide whether his characters use these technologies; if yes, at what level, how frequently; if no, why. And so on.

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