How can contemporary fiction cope with the rapid changes of today’s world? This is the topic of this month’s authors’ Round Robin, set by author Dr Bob Rich.
Since I write romance, I’ve taken the liberty of adapting Bob’s topic a little: how can contemporary romance writers cope with rapid changes and incorporate new technology in their novels?
Romance writers and readers have always embraced new technology. Romance readers were among the first to adopt e-readers, and romance writers were among the first to self-publish for the digital market. Digital publishing has revolutionised reading; nowadays we can even read on our phones.
But new technology has created a plot problem for many writers. There used to be plenty of scope for tension in a romantic suspense if you had the heroine’s car break down in the middle of nowhere in the dark. Now all she has to do is phone Green Flag on her mobile, then update her status on FB to let everyone know where she is. Even better, she can find a YouTube video that shows her exactly how to fix the mechanical problem.
Writers have to go through hoops not to have new technology get in the way of an old plot. The mobile’s battery has to have run down, or there has to be no signal, or else the phone was left at home by mistake. These reasons are used often, and can start to sound tired.
In a world where nowadays many people stay connected right from their schooldays, having your characters lose touch is surprisingly difficult. This is something that’s bothering me at the moment in my own wip. How can the hero and heroine, who were friends at school, lose contact with one another, even though one of them is in Africa? I’m finding it very hard to find a credible way to do it.
I’m not the only writer who has had to struggle with the same problem. In Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the author has to find a reason why the main character loses sight of his best friend for years. She puts it down to him being ‘unsociable’, and so not being on Facebook. Is this believable? Would it not be human nature to stalk this great friend he’s fallen out with over the years – even just a little bit? I can see how social media is a nuisance for this bit of the novel!
Recently,rather than looking at the problems it causes, I’ve been far more interested in the creative ways romance writers are incorporating new technology in their stories.
As I mentioned above, romance writers are often ahead of the game. Love letters used to be the traditional way to communicate in a romance. I remember reading a Mills & Boon novel in the 1990s that featured the hero and heroine communicating by email – and thinking at the time it was an innovative idea! (Now I can’t for the life of me remember what that book was, or the author, and my M&B collection has gone after several house moves. If anyone can tell me who first featured love letters by email – or the first such novel they ever read – I’d be glad to know!)
In 1998, the romcom You’ve Got Mail came out, directed and written by Nora Ephron. At that time emails were fairly new to most users (Hotmail started in a couple of years before). The story was a massive hit and is still really popular.
When more and more people started using mobile phones, romance writers were quick to create new stories around this technology, too. I’ve Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella, is probably not the earliest example, but it’s one I remember reading and, again, thinking the author had had a great idea. The heroine loses her mobile phone – a nightmare for most of us. She finds someone else’s phone in a bin. (This is in the days before phone locking or the Find My Phone app, so she could get away with this plot line :) ) Imagine finding someone else’s smartphone. You have access to so much about them. This abandoned phone has been lost by the hero. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.
No matter how rapidly technology changes, romance authors keep up, adapt, and consistently come up with creative ideas, not just to find ways to incorporate new technology into the plot, but to make that technology a key to the way the romance develops.
And no matter how technology changes, romance writers always focus on the human and emotional side of relationships.
Nowadays there are too many romance novels to mention that use new technology as part of the love story.
Here are just a few examples:
Make It Up To You, by Lucy Keeling
What do mascara wands and gardening shears have in common?
Absolutely nothing! At least that’s what wannabe beauty influencer Sophie Timney thinks when her friend Polly suggests involving her brother Marcus in Sophie’s make-up tutorials. She needs more views, Marcus needs promotion for his gardening business – in Polly’s mind joining forces will help them both. Sophie isn’t so sure.
Because Marcus Bowman has a habit of getting under her skin in a way that no exfoliating face scrub ever could. But, as the views and comments on her videos begin creeping up, it becomes increasingly obvious that Sophie’s subscribers like Marcus, and what’s even worse is that Sophie might be starting to feel the same way …
Hold Me, by Courtney Milan
Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.
But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…
Love Lettering, by Kate Clayborn
Meg Mackworth is at the pinnacle of her professional career and the rock-bottom of her personal life. Blessed with Instagram renown and a New York Times endorsement, The Planner of Park Slope has no shortage of clamouring clients to commission intricate hand-lettering and calligraphy. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .
A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other [through texts] about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the text messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .
I’ve really enjoyed thinking about and writing this post!
Do you have any examples of romance authors who were quick to use new technology as a key part of the love story? Or any examples of romance novels where technology plays a big part which you’ve particularly enjoyed? If so, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
And if you’d like to hear what the other authors are saying on this subject, please click on the links below…
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1OK
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com