Selfie: Are you Outdating Your Novel?

Are you outdating your book? It’s easy to do. Books are the archival medium of our culture. Their production time is the longest partly because of their archival nature.

Instant. If you want something published instantly, you should use a blog post, a newspaper article, or a radio report. This type of information has a short shelf-life and has information that relates mostly to the current day.

Intermediate Time Frame. Some mediums that take a longer view of information and stories are weekly newspapers and magazines (on or off line). These formats offer a wider view of a story and provide more in-depth analysis and discussion of the ramifications of the story.

Long-term. Books are the long view of a story or information. Some books are only viable for a limited amount of time; but many are timeless, meant to be a classic view of a subject.

Let’s assume that you want to write a classic book. You are in danger of outdating your story if you use these things:

Jargon, slang or just-for-this-moment-in-time language. The Oxford Dictionary declared “Selfie,” as the Word of the Year for 2013.

SELFIE: Darcy Pattison, January 2014.
SELFIE: Darcy Pattison, January 2014.

selfie noun, informal
(also selfy; plural selfies)
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website

If you include the word “selfie” in a book this year, will it be outdated in ten years? That’s the question you must ask yourself. While taking photographs of yourself and posting them is current HOT today, will it be hot in ten years or 100 years? Will this blog post be outdated by 2015?

There’s a trade-off, of course. You want to sound contemporary; however, you don’t want to be so contemporary that you’re outdated in a decade.

It’s a judgment call. To prevent being outdated, make sure you consider the long-term ramifications of your language.

What’s your favorite contemporary word? And have you used it in your current WIP?

4 responses to “Selfie: Are you Outdating Your Novel?”

  1. And yet…when writing historical fiction, we use terms of the times to give our story a realistic feel for the time it’s set in. So…are we outdating our novel or are we setting the time period?.

  2. Good thought. Yes, you may be setting the story in a contemporary setting; but the next generation of readers may just see it as outdated. Shrug. It’s a nuance that matters to sales. But there is, of course, always a choice of what language to include or exclude.


  3. i’m writing a novelette right now that uses jargon and setting features that intentionally screams the time period of the piece. Specifically, this story takes place in 1996, which is only eighteen years ago, but a lot has changed in that time. I’m approaching this piece as a period work, because it’s a great deal of fun, and it’s working.

    I can’t help but wonder if what you’re trying to advise your readers not to be overly trendy in their work, because setting the scene for a story can be a balancing act. If you create your own brand names, strip your work of jargon and artefacts of the time, you can end up with a fairly lifeless environment for your story. On the other hand, if you’re constantly dropping brand names, current slang, twisting dialog into a trend-pretzel, then your work will seem obnoxious to many readers who don’t care for modern speech patterns, or might have issues with a couple of the brand names you mention.

    It’s a balancing act. You ask the simple and all important question: does the jargon serve to inform the setting and characters? Are the setting and characters helping you tell the story in an entertaining way? If not, then you have editing to do.

    As for my approach with my most recent work set in 1996, I’m submerging the story entirely in the jargon and environment of the year. Sometimes you have to go big or go home, so the more dated that tale seems, the more people will get a feel for that time and place.

  4. Yes! It is a balancing act.

    And certainly some readers won’t “get” the idea of the historical context of the story. I once wrote a story about World War II and talked about dancing as “cutting the rug,” a correct bit of jargon for the time-period. But a young reader didn’t understand that it was “historical fiction” and just thought it was outdated.

    So, if you use a historically accurate diction, your readers need to be a bit more sophisticated.

    Mostly, you should be aware of the ramifications of the language you choose–and be prepared for the reader reaction.