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Contemporary romance and love stories in the age of instant messaging

round robin, helena fairfax, freelance editorHow 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.

helena fiarfax, romance novels, new technology
     Image courtesy of Pixabay

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.

sophie kinsella, helena fairfaxWhen 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:

lucy keeling, helena fairfaxMake 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 …

courtney milan, helena fairfaxHold 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…

kate clayborn, helena fairfaxLove 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

32 thoughts on “Contemporary romance and love stories in the age of instant messaging

  1. Superb and fascinating article, Helena! 😀 You’ve included some great examples to illustrate your points and highlight the problems for modern writers. There is a fine line how to include texts etc into books, some I’ve read do not fit well, others are seamlessly part of the novel! Good luck with your conundrum … it is hard to ‘disappear’ in today’s modern tech world. The other day my husband, not on any social media, was saying how nothing would come up if I tried to find him on the internet. Within two minutes I found his work links and details!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the story about your husband, Annika! :) Nowadays it seems odd if people don’t appear on any Google search. It’s frightening in a way how much data there is about us all floating about. This is why I’ve been struggling with this part of my wip – but I think I’ve hit on a credible answer. Now I just have to make sure readers will suspend their disbelief.
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your great comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post, especially as it’s not just romance novels that need to factor in social media. Me and co-author Susan Pape are currently developing a dystopian fiction idea that uses social media to drive the plot. We’re finding it great fun.

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    1. That does sound like a fun novel to write, Susan! It’s great that you are embracing new technology and- instead of making it a problem – coming up with new ideas around it. I love your creative idea. Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your comment!

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  3. Morning, Helena, what a great and inclusive post. As you know, I’m very late to the smart phone club and I did cause my young rels a lot of trouble. Actually, I like to think it made them use the creative parts of their brain to track me down. ‘Does she go to the fish counter first – or last?’ Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. :D! (New tech laughing face!) I love that about the fish counter, Anne. you did really well to stay away from mobile phones for so long. In many ways they are a millstone. I remember losing one once and it was actually a sense of relief I felt first. The story of your relatives trying to track you down could be the basis of a great short story for something like the People’s Friend.
      Thanks for dropping in. I really enjoyed your coment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Technology moves fast – and that can be a problem if you’re a slow writer, or if you’re revisiting a previously abandoned project!

    But I agree that it opens as many opportunities as it causes problems. I remember one Nora Roberts novel where the installation of a state-of-the-art security system was what introduced the hero and heroine. And the nearest I’ve come to writing a meet-cute myself was when I had two characters chasing each other up hills on bikes trying to outdo each other’s Strava figures!

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    1. Kathleen, I was going to mention about new tech causing problems in that it moves so quickly. It is a problem if you feel the tech might soon date your book – although if it’s a great story, like You Got Mail, I guess that’s the most important thing.
      I love the idea of the two characters and Strava. That’s a brilliant idea. What a great way to meet! I would never have thought of that one as I’m behind on these sorts of apps, but I really love it.
      Thanks for your comment!

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  5. Interesting post, Helena! The very name contemporary romance would mean the story would have to deal with current trends, but you display it in a unique way, especially how fast these stories become time capsules.

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    1. I like the phrase ‘time capsules’ to describe them, Rhobin. That does happen so quickly now! But if the story holds up, then it doesn’t matter to me if the technology is dated. Thanks for organising another great Round Robin!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting post, although I’m not a romance writer. Reminds me of how I invented a computer small enough to fit in your hand for a story – before palm pilots, and long before iPhones. But it took too long to find interest that technology passed me by. I often call out writers I critique when they name a technology product. It’s constantly a concern IMO. It’s why I tend to stick to historical fiction or fantasy. Ha!

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    1. I try not to mention things that will date a book too much, too, Sandy. Naming a pop song or celebrity can quickly date a story. I can see the attraction in historical fiction and fantasy :)
      That’s amazing you wrote about a micro computer. I love to see fiction predict new technology – eg the Star Trek communicators. Who’d have thought we’d all have mobile phones of our own one day?
      Thanks so much for dropping in and for your comment!

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  7. Struggling with my own bias here, as I find the epidemic of smartphone addiction and endless (very largely mindless) texting more and more irritating…

    One story no one will want to write is that of a modern Romeo and Juliet who should have met and lived one of the greatest love stories in history; but who were both so addicted to their phones they never looked up long enough to make eye contact!

    I wish I was joking. I’m quite sure these things are demolishing people’s attention spans and atrophying their ability to socialize.

    I always try to go back to basics. Martin Scorsese, with reference to MARVEL films, recently said, “it isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

    I submit that conveying emotional experiences is the kind of thing that authors, at their core, should also always be trying to do.

    But there’s a terrible tendency to get too wrapped-up in trivialities, like gadgets (see most James Bond films) which detract from the point of it all unless they can be very carefully and organically integrated into the plot.

    So, yes, you can’t ignore society as it is today; but we’re all still Homo Sapiens with all those loves, lusts and problems under the surface, and those, I think, should always be central to the plot.

    Otherwise, really, what have you got?

    Addendum: for example, I might set a love story in the Lake District where I think coverage is still patchy. Totally connected London girl goes up there, nearly goes insane because she can’t text all the time but is slowly forced to relate to the real world around her partly by some hunky farmer or shepherd she meets…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi James, I totally agree with you about the ‘loves, lusts and problems’ being central to a story, and not the technology. You will always find the human element and the human emotions taking centre stage in a romance novel. The world-building or the gadgets, or whatever, are not the focus. This is (perhaps) what I love most about them.
      One of my books – Felicity at the Cross Hotel – is set in the Lake District, and yes, people struggle with the phone signal.
      It’s funny but when I’m reading on my phone on public transport, I look up and see everyone else is on their phones, too. Perhaps we’re all reading about exciting events, where people do real things and have real conversations – where in actual real life, we’re all just on our phones :(
      Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment. I hope you do write that book!

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      1. I was thinking of FELICITY when I made that comment. I also stayed at a hotel near Ullswater one time where TV reception was poor (didn’t miss it…), but currently writing something completely different.

        As Monty Python would say!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah, I see! My lake in Felicity is loosely based on Ullswater. A beautiful spot. I’m writing a sort of sequel at the moment. I must remember for continuity about the signal problems!
          All the best for your current writing!

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  8. I ran into that exact problem when writing Healing A Hero – I needed my military hero and the woman he’d fallen in love with on a 30 leave to get separated and how in the world, in this day and age could this possibly happen with email, Skype and instant messaging. At the time, I was subscribing to The Marine Times, because my hero was a Marine and I needed to know what his goals going forward if he remained in the military might be and I was lucky to come across an article about a ship being decommissioned that included interviews from a Marine and a sailor who had served aboard her in 2011 at the time of the attacks in New York. Turns out that ship, in harbor in Australia at the time, was ordered to leave for the middle east immediately and NO ONE on board was allowed to call or email their family or friends for over four months. Worked perfectly for my story, but we aren’t always that lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You spent the time doing the research, Skye, and you were rewarded with the perfect answer! I always advise writers whose books I’m editing to spend time on the research. Even if you’re not looking for the answer to something in particular, you are bound to hit on something that you will later find useful, or that will spark off an idea. You’ve given the perfect example. I feel happy you got your solution!

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  9. I still don’t own a smart phone. I have a flip phone, so I can get and make phone calls and texts. Period. I don’t go on-line with it, I don’t use GPS, since I know how to use maps. And I don’t even take pictures of my grandbabies, when I visit them. Why should I take up time taking pictures, when I can be snuggling them and reading books to them? The memories are what’s important, and no camera is required for that.

    I try not to put technology into my romances. I prefer to let the relationship be the key. Whatever I do use, will end up being dated, and the way things are moving today, it won’t be long before it’s obsolete! I can only hope that the characters ring true, so that any future readers will overlook any “dated” references.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had a flip phone for a long time, too, Fiona. I’m of the generation, too, that grew up without the internet. Now I’m a complete convert to the smartphone and I love it. I understand about the dated references. I try not to reference anything too specific. It will be interesting to see where social media takes us in the next ten years, and how romance writers adapt.
      Thanks for your interesting take on it, and for dropping in!

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  10. I have a solution to your problem: “How can the hero and heroine, who were friends at school, lose contact with one another, even though one of them is in Africa?”
    One or both of them have changed name. She might have married and divorced (and yes, many women still change a name). I know several people who discard the name they got at birth, and adopt a new one. One of my sisters-in-law is now on her 4th!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea, Bob, and worth remembering for a future novel. I have a solution for this particular book that works quite well – as well as Donna Tartt’s, in any case, and that’s more than good enough for me!
      Thanks for setting us this interesting topic!

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  11. Really enjoyed this, Helena.

    I’ve used social media to a certain extent in plot lines but it’s never been the main factor – just characters using it as they do eg friends who met online and interracted for years finally meeting up, using social media and the Internet in everyday life as the characters go about their business.

    I might come up against some blocks on my current WIP though, as that is centred around a blogger!

    Thanks for the good read!

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    1. That’s the same in my novels, Cass – just the characters going about a normal day, with the internet and social media being a part of that day. It’s been fun researching books in which new technology plays a major role.
      Thanks so much for dropping in – and good luck with your wip!

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  12. Hey, Helena. Super post and obviously hit a few nerves with all the comments. Despite technology, life happens, people move away. They get jobs, fall in love with other folks and just don’t go checking up on lost loves. At least that’s as I see it and I’m sticking with it for my current WIP. I think it will work for you, too. Thanks for always writing such an though provoking post. :) I’ve shared.

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    1. Marsha, I guess you’re right. I’m of the generation that grew up without social media. Once I left school I lost touch with almost everyone straightaway, and now couldn’t even remember anyone’s name, let alone bother checking on them. Everyone seems much more connected now, but I guess there’s still that chance of drifting away completely. I’ve resolved my own wip problem now. It’s given me something to think about :)
      Thanks so much for dropping in, and for sharing. I appreciate it.

      Like

  13. Two thoughts…
    Frightened by so much data about us floating about ?
    Experiencing ID fraud first hand is chilling. ( blog post, Identity Crisis)
    Lose contact ? Easy -and not necessarily the one who’s in Africa…

    Add family estrangement – a subject to which I was drawn after reading
    a 17th C will. Minor updating would deliver a very contemporary story…

    My favourite tech driven narrative has to be Dracula…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A story around identity theft would make a great read. It was touched on in Tana French’s novel The Likeness. I like the mystery around it and the possibilities.
      The 17th century will sounds intriguing. I hope a story does come out of it! And I loved the recent BBC Dracula series. It was a great modern take.
      Thanks so much for your comment – and for the creative ideas!

      Liked by 1 person

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