How a cell phone will kill your book

Most YA writers today did not have cell phones when they were 15 years old.

Think about that for a second.

The people writing books for teenagers right now - the ones who aren't still teenagers I mean - didn't spend hours and hours on the phone talking or texting. They didn't IM, or at least not to the degree that teenagers do now. They weren't "wired." And this lack of technology has been a problem in some books I've been reading lately.

Not that every book has to be TTFN, focused on the new technologies of the day. In fact, I personally prefer to keep the tech in my books to a minimum, because nothing will date book faster than technology, except pop culture references (more on this in a later post). So I get why an author would decide not to have his main characters chattering away on cell phone all the time. Watching a character do it is not necessarily more interesting that listening the guy in front you at line Starbucks do it.

But there's a difference between keeping your character's engagement with the tech to a minimum and forgetting that cell phones exist. If a story takes place in the "present day," then I want to see a character has a cell phone or has a reason not to have one. For example, I've see several books that mention that a character can't afford a cell phone. Fine. I'll buy that (heck, I can hardly afford mine, sometimes). In the book I'm working on now, my character has a cell phone, but as a result of some bad behavior, her parents took her phone and computer away. That wasn't planned on my part - I didn't think "how will I pry her cell phone away from her?" - but I needed a way for her to be isolated from others, and a girls not isolated if she can press a button and get her best friend on the phone.

Which is the interesting part to me ... I think that, in addition to cell phones not playing a part in the adolescence of the current crop of writers, YA writers avoid cell phones because they mess up plots. Many plot developments simply wouldn't work if the character in question could just call for help. What if the mom in Cujo had a cell phone? The omnipresence of the cell phone makes things that are tense or scary less tense and scary. Is your character trapped at a party? Call a cab. Is there a stalker outside her window? Call the cops. Is he lonely? Call a friend. The isolating moments of adolescence that are so key to YA literature are complicated or erased by the fact that the character has a phone in his pocket. Maybe it's this trouble that makes authors want to avoid cell phones. Cell phones ruin plots, just like they ruin quiet lunches.


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