March 11th, 2013

Lisa Coffee

Avoid Dating Your Manuscript


I just read a book (which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) that didn't age well.  Trust me--this is not a manuscript you'd want to date in the "let's go out for dinner and a movie" sense.  But that's not the way I mean "date" here.

I mean that you book won't have a shelf life if you pepper your manuscript with pop culture references.  These things might engage the readers of today.  But today's four year olds probably won't remember the Harlem Shake or Gangnam Style ten years from now when they're old enough to read our stuff.

But how can you write about contemporary teens without describing life as we know it?  Here are some ideas:

  • Describe the kind of music and message of the song rather than a specific band or title.

  • Give enough detail about the popular movie that anyone gets the reference--not just people who've seen it.

  • Allow your characters to use their own unique set of expressions.  For example, John Green's An Abundance of Katherines uses the invented term "fug."

  • Give your characters interests outside of typical pop culture things teens like.  Sure, it might be more realistic to write about kids who love the top ten hits, movies, internet memes.  But it's way more interesting to hear about the shot-put expert or the kid who won a knot-tying competition.

Do you have any other ideas for how your manuscript can withstand the test of time?