1. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada

    Can you date your story without people thinking it's historical or retro?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by peachalulu, Jun 17, 2012.

    One of my novels is noir-ish in tone and I'm thinking of putting a date on it like 1984 or 1986. I like the idea of phone booths , big Buick cars , no internet. I'm just wondering if in putting a date on it - will publishers think I'm only dating the beginning to draw up to a more 'now' date towards the end? Do publishers want an upto date , now novel.
    P.S. there is no real reason for dating the book in the 80's accept to avoid the usual usage of cell phones , internet and such. The characters don't run into significant events in the past. It's more a feeling for the time.
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    You can set your novel in any time period you wish. I'm not sure if you are talking about slapping a date on it up front or revealing it contextually, but either is workable. Personally, I'd prefer the latter.

    Novelist Sue Grafton's alphabet mystery series is set in the 1980s. She began it in 1982, and the time span experienced by her character is considerably less than the time to write all of them.

    You don't have to justify your choice of time period. Certainly, you wouldn't be the first writer to choose to not have cell phones and the Internet be factors in the story. Or you might be using the early paranoia over the newly-named AIDS epidemic to be a key element. Maybe it's important for your story that the Berlin Wall is still up and active.

    What could kill your story is glaring inconsistencies in your chosen time period. But if you are secure enough in your research, go for it.
  3. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Sep 24, 2009
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    Alabama, USA
    People will likely assume it's set in history/retro just because it's set in the past. My mystery stories are set in Colonial America and 1940s America, but none of my characters are witness to huge historical events, nor do they meet historical characters, yet most will likely catagorize them in the historical mystery fiction just because its not set in the 21st century.

    I don't know if publishers will assume you're trying to date the past so you can bring it up to the present. As for what kind of novel they'd want? It depends. Some may want a novel that's set in the here and now while others will accept novels that are set earlier.
  4. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    listen to cog... he's right, imo...
  5. ManOrAstroMan

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    May 8, 2012
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    The question in the subject heading: "Can you date your story without people thinking it's historical or retro?"
    My answer: No.
    Anytime you deliberately remind the reader that your story is set in another time period, it's going to stick in the reader's mind. Even if you go the contextual route, and don't say, "The year is 1985..." it's going to be noticed. The only time the reader doesn't seem to notice is when they pick up a book actually *written* a while ago. Deliberately setting a story in another time period turns the era into a character, always influencing everything in the book: technology, politics, pop culture, etc.
    Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. But the reader will think of it as retro/historical.
  6. thecoopertempleclause

    thecoopertempleclause New Member

    Apr 13, 2012
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    Cornwall, UK
    You've also got to be careful with word-choice, especially when it comes to dialogue. A lot of people lived through the 80s, so a single word used anachronistically can kill your carefully constructed atmosphere. English changes a lot over time, words don't mean the same as they did 30 years ago, so be meticulous in your research if you want an exact era.

    Personally I'd go with what Cog said, reveal the general era in your details, but don't date it specifically. Readers will be more forgiving that way.

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