Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time Stamps

I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that I have unusual personality quirks that no one else shares and that sometimes I say, do, and believe things that no one else understands. This is one of those things: I don't like when people use dates in books and movies.

Now, I'm not talking about people saying, "It's Tuesday, Paolo," or "Isn't Canada so lovely in March?" because things like that are both unavoidable and necessary to establish setting or certain events. However, when I read, "the park will be completed in 2004" or "Happy 1996," I groan and worry about how dated this will be in the future.

(In my defense, this weirdness didn't develop on its own. Once, on the commentary for West Wing -- I miss that show! -- Aaron Sorkin mentioned that they tried never to mention any dates in the show, because they wanted it to remain timeless. That stuck.)

I like to think that someday my books will be published and in readers hands. And, hopefully, they'll still be in reader's hands five years later. And I'd really like it if the book didn't sound five years old when they read it.

While I can understand the importance of years in things like historical fiction, in anything contemporary, I prefer to drop the year. For me, it is no year in particular, and interesting things are happening.

Am I the only one who really thinks about this nonsense? How do you feel about dates and years in books and movies? Do you include them in your own writing?


  1. I do think about it but I also wonder if books can be timeless. Maybe the most we can hope for is something like "early 21st century". Because the technology, culture and sensibilities that seem so timeless to us now will be dated in ten, twenty or fifty years time.

  2. I have never given this any thought. I do not include dates, per se, when I write, but if I am writing in a certain era, I think I would have to mention some kind of "date" so the readers know what time period the story is in.

    I like the word "timeless", especially in a book, a story that could be read now and in the future and not seem so "old".

    I think dates are important, though. I know as a reader, I want to know what period of time the story I am reading is in, so that I can understand the society,etc. of the time. I think this helps with understanding the characters too.

  3. I know what you mean. In my last contemporary manuscript, I wanted to include music references because the characters were college-age but I didn't want to immediately date the thing by talking about current hits. I settled with using "vintage" and "classic" bands (Rolling Stones, etc) that people still listen to today.

    Fairyhedgehog is right, though: some things will always date a piece (like no matter how timeless a book is, if it talks about the USSR or calls something a "personal computer" it's automatically dated) but we can avoid really obvious ones if we try. I doubt teens 10 years from now will know or care what The Hills is, so I can safely omit that from a book...