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Is It Okay To Say This In A Book?

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Darren Frey

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If I were to say my MC, a little girl was wearing a Doa The Explorer shirt would that be okay or could I get sued? Im not slandering the name of the character Im just stating the MC is wearing a shirt with her on it.
 

SRHowen

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Dora The Explorer? Writers use brand names all the time in books.

The only issue is dating the book by using a pop culture reference. Ten years from now what if no one knows who that is, and I assume you want people to read your book for years to come.

What about just saying she wore a shirt with a cartoon character on it?
 

Darkshore

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I've seen it done, but I've also seen authors make up their own version of said "characters" I suppose so that they don't date their work but still manage to give off the same impression.
 

Jehhillenberg

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If I were to say my MC, a little girl was wearing a Doa The Explorer shirt would that be okay or could I get sued? Im not slandering the name of the character Im just stating the MC is wearing a shirt with her on it.


Totally fine.
 

Serena Casey

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I had the same question in reference to a young girl having a Hannah Montana backpack, but already it's outdated so I took it out, figuring in a few more years, no one would get it. Hopefully. ;)
 

jeffo20

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The only issue is dating the book by using a pop culture reference. Ten years from now what if no one knows who that is, and I assume you want people to read your book for years to come.

I had the same question in reference to a young girl having a Hannah Montana backpack, but already it's outdated so I took it out, figuring in a few more years, no one would get it. Hopefully. ;)
Not to hijack this thread, but is this really as big of an issue as people make it out to be? I see comments all the time about the dangers of dating your work; it seems to me that if the story is good, the characters are real, and the writing is strong, it's not going to matter if there are a few references to outdated pop culture.
 

Satsya

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Not to hijack this thread, but is this really as big of an issue as people make it out to be? I see comments all the time about the dangers of dating your work; it seems to me that if the story is good, the characters are real, and the writing is strong, it's not going to matter if there are a few references to outdated pop culture.

It's more that cultural references should be used with care.

If the story takes place in a specific time period, I would say the references are a plus. They add to the flavor of the era.

However if the book's humor or plot relies on knowing the cultural references, it will limit your audience after a decade or so. Most readers won't put up with having to use a dictionary and Wikipedia just to understand a joke.
 

SRHowen

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Haven't you ever read something and noticed it was out of date or thought, a phone booth, who uses a phone booth anymore, do they even have phone booths? (or some other thing)

Trying to make a story "timeless" in that it could take place in any timeline, helps to make sure that it is a timeless story and will outlast the pop culture in it by the absence of it. It's late, does that make sense?

Even the Harry Potter books didn't have pop culture in them, unless you count the radio in the tent, and they have become pop culture themselves.

You want your story to be timeless so it hangs around and publishers want something that will still be current when it gets to publication.
 

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If I were to say my MC, a little girl was wearing a Doa The Explorer shirt would that be okay or could I get sued? Im not slandering the name of the character Im just stating the MC is wearing a shirt with her on it.

I don't know who "Doa the Explorer" is now. Nor do I care. You don't have to worry about getting sued, but, really, what's the point of the reference? To a t-shirt? What significance can this possibly have to your story?

caw
 

Dr.Gonzo

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Haven't you ever read something and noticed it was out of date or thought, a phone booth, who uses a phone booth anymore, do they even have phone booths? (or some other thing)

Trying to make a story "timeless" in that it could take place in any timeline, helps to make sure that it is a timeless story and will outlast the pop culture in it by the absence of it. It's late, does that make sense?

Even the Harry Potter books didn't have pop culture in them, unless you count the radio in the tent, and they have become pop culture themselves.

You want your story to be timeless so it hangs around and publishers want something that will still be current when it gets to publication.

Not true for all. Some work best when of the time, like satires and social commentaries.
 

dpaterso

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If I were to say my MC, a little girl was wearing a Dora The Explorer shirt would that be okay or could I get sued? Im not slandering the name of the character Im just stating the MC is wearing a shirt with her on it.
I can't see any problem with this. Nor with having her wear Nike shoes. Or drinking Pepsi Max. Or carrying a SIG Sauer P220. These things exist in the real world, denying they do by avoiding all mention of trademarked/brand names seems weird.

-Derek
 

Terie

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Dating a work is a silly worry. All work is dated.

Yes, even Harry Potter. He was 11 in 1992 -- a detail the movie-makers decided (understandably, but still) to ignore by showing the Millennium Bridge in HP7.a. (Or was it HP6? Well, you get the idea.)

As mentioned upstream, the real danger isn't dating one's work so much as it is that the cultural reference gets lost and ends up having no meaning to the reader. This is especially true of writing for kids. A popular cartoon character today will very likely be completely unknown to a kid ten years from now.

And since the OP hasn't mentioned his target audience, it's worth noting, too, that many adults today won't get a reference to a popular kids' cartoon character.

In general, as long as a cultural detail isn't meant to convey any important meaning and its function is simple decoration, it's fine to include. But it would be unwise to pin important meaning to a cultural detail. For example, if you just want to say the kid is wearing a 'Dora the Explorer' t-shirt as part of providing details to your work, that's fine. If it's supposed to convey smething important about the character wearing it that the reader will only grasp if they are familiar with Dora, that meaning will be lost on anyone -- today, tomorrow, or ten years from now -- who doesn't 'get it'.
 
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blacbird

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If it's supposed to convey smething important about the character wearing it that the reader will only grasp if they are familiar with Dora, that meaning will be lost on anyone -- today, tomorrow, or ten years from now -- who doesn't 'get it'.

This, exactly. I don't much care about the "dating" of a manuscript via a cultural reference. It's much more important that the cultural reference be sufficiently known and familiar. You can't just assume that because you know what it means the majority of readers will. A t-shirt bearing an image of Hitler would mean something to everybody. A t-shirt bearing an image of Fred Flintstone would be recognized by everybody, but not mean a damn thing, near as I can figure (I have a necktie with Fred Flintstone on it). A t-shirt bearing an image of the front man for Hootie and the Blowfish wouldn't be recognized or mean doodlysquat to much of anybody, whether or not you personally like their music.

caw
 

megan_d

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Dating a work is a silly worry. All work is dated.

Well that's just a trueism. Yes, all novels are technically dated. But books that makes jokes or references that rely on a knowledge of current popular culture are not going to last like books that don't.

For example, a book written in the late nineties might have a scene high in irony, the MC might made a joke along the lines of 'paging Alanis Morresette!' A reader familier with the singer will get the joke, but a reader who doesn't will be left going 'huh?' And even if they do get it, the I imagine the response would be less 'hahaha' and more 'geez, this book is old.' Not what you want.

I don't really get your reference to Harry Potter and the millenium bridge. It doesn't appear in the books, so I don't see how it applies to this discussion. I think the Harry Potter books will hold up well over the decades, as Rowling never really made any references to pop culture or current fashions (that I can think of).
 

Terie

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Well that's just a trueism. Yes, all novels are technically dated. But books that makes jokes or references that rely on a knowledge of current popular culture are not going to last like books that don't.

Which is exactly what I said. Taking one sentence out of my post without the context of the rest of what I said is hardly useful.


I don't really get your reference to Harry Potter and the millenium bridge. It doesn't appear in the books, so I don't see how it applies to this discussion. I think the Harry Potter books will hold up well over the decades, as Rowling never really made any references to pop culture or current fashions (that I can think of).

My comment about the Millennium Bridge was an aside. Someone upstream said that HP was not dated, and I was merely refuting that by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, it IS dated: with an actual date.

And I still say the worry about 'dating one's work' is silly. Rowling's work is dated by the fact that she included a date in book 1, but she did exactly what I suggested one should do: she avoided pinning anything important on cultural references.

There are, in fact, many cultural references in HP. I read the first three books before moving to the UK, and there were many details and plays on words I didn't understand -- and it didn't matter. For example, I didn't get why Ron, looking at muggle money, remarked on the odd shape of some of the coins. (Two British coins are seven-sided.) I also didn't get the word-play of 'spello-tape'. (The generic name for clear tape in the UK is 'cello-tape'.) But those were minor, decorating details, not important points of plot or characterisation, so they were perfectly fine to include.
 
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J. Tanner

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Something is going to give you away anyway given how fast the world is changing. Oops, you mentioned dial-up internet, or buying a book at Borders, or whatever element you can't predict the future of. Why not just set your book in a particular year and let it be, rather than trying to hide any hint of it? You don't have to go completely "Stand By Me" (not a slam on that story) or anything but you don't have to try to sanitize the timeframe into extinction either.
 

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Dora the Explorer has been around awhile so I think it's a fairly recognizable label for anyone who has spent time around kids. No matter what brand you use, there will always be someone who's unfamiliar with it, so just make sure that you provide context for what it actually is. I've read books where I had to google something because the author did not provide enough context and I had no idea whether she was talking about shoes or clothing or her pet dog. :p Quite annoying.
 

Caledonia Lass

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There's tons of pros and cons to this, with as many opinions. So ask yourself, do you want to date the book with a pop icon/cartoon character that only kids know about? Or do you want to just gloss over it so the story could fit in just about any era without people going, "What the hell?"
Personally, every now and then when I come across a book that references Van Halen as the music of the MC's choice, I nod, smile and rock out to the memories and tunes in my brain.
If I come across some REALLY old reference to something I don't quite get, it throws me completely out of the book for a bit wondering what they're talking about.
If you don't want to throw people out of your book for even a second, don't date your stuff. And make sure all your typos and grammar errors are fixed while you're at it.
 

megan_d

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My comment about the Millennium Bridge was an aside. Someone upstream said that HP was not dated, and I was merely refuting that by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, it IS dated: with an actual date.

I think we are working off different definitions of dated in this context. I'm not meaning it in reference to an actual date, but rather the overall feel of the novel. Does the novel read old and out of touch, or does it have a timeless quality to it?

Which is why I don't think the references to things like british money in the HP books apply. Yes they pin the novel to a certain location, but they certaintly don't pin it to a certain time. It's a different issue to one of "datedness."

And I still don't think it's silly. As a kid I enjoyed the Animorphs books by K.A. Applegate, and I enjoyed Harry Potter. I'm confident that one day my own kids will enjoy Harry Potter as much as I did, but given the abundance of pop culture jokes I doubt they will get the same enjoyment out of the Animorphs books. I hope one day my own books will be enjoyed by more than one generation.
 
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