Plots made obsolete by technology

Status
Not open for further replies.

MsGneiss

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 26, 2008
Messages
1,595
Reaction score
262
Location
New York City
I was thinking that a lot of my favorite works of fiction would not be possible in our modern technological world. For example, Gogol's "Inspector General" just could not happen in a world of cell phones and Wikipedia. I suppose some genres have the wonderful "technology doesn't work around magic" plot device, but generally, I think that having a culture of instant communications, where any bit of information can be easily looked up, makes a lot of the classic plots virtually impossible. What do you all think? What are some books you love that just wouldn't work in modern times?
 

jaksen

Caped Codder
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 6, 2010
Messages
5,117
Reaction score
526
Location
In MA, USA, across from a 17th century cemetery
Ummm batteries die or you're in a literal 'dead zone' and then you can't call for help or look up the answers on Wikipedia. Or the bad guy ditches your phone in a ditch. Or you sent so many text msgs your service got cancelled because you owe $10,000 on last month's bill. Or the truck that's been tailing you ran over your cell phone or iPad as you dropped it fleeing the bad guys in it. (Poor sentence construction, that.)

Perhaps I'm not answering the question you are asking. :D
 

MsGneiss

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 26, 2008
Messages
1,595
Reaction score
262
Location
New York City
There's a way to make any plot work.

Yea, but many times it feels forced and comes out convoluted. And, I do see what you mean... it comes up in contemporary novels all the time, but I don't like it when there are whole paragraphs devoted to explaining why the protagonist can't do the obvious thing, which is use the telephone.
 

SPMiller

Prodigiously Hanged
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 30, 2008
Messages
11,525
Reaction score
1,988
Age
41
Location
Dallas
Website
seanpatrickmiller.com
A writer should never have to explain why the protagonist can't do the obvious thing. The narrative should have already provided all relevant information. If not, the editor should have caught it.

Of course, both writers and editors make mistakes. The red flag is "Bogus Alternatives" as defined in the Turkey City Lexicon.
 
Last edited:

adarkfox

designs books | writes books
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 29, 2008
Messages
857
Reaction score
84
Location
Iowa
You can always go back in time - the last Nicholas Sparks book I wrote was set in the '80s so no cell phones, no email.... refreshing.
 

Jack Parker

Sleep is only caffeine deprivation.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2010
Messages
255
Reaction score
29
After indoor plumbing was invented, all technology could have ceased as far as I'm concerned. I've never been a fan of it. I have a computer and a cell phone. (And I only have the cell phone because it's cheaper than a land line.) No TV, stereo/radio, microwave, etc., Heck, I didn't even have an e-mail address until I found Absolute Write and created one so I could join.

All of these technological gadgets make writing a little more challenging for me. But, I do like challenges, so, there you go.
 

Phaeal

Whatever I did, I didn't do it.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 11, 2008
Messages
9,232
Reaction score
1,898
Location
Providence, RI
Heh, I had to rewrite my last book because while my male teenage protag was the sort to leave his cell phone on the charger, his female BFF had hers permanently attached. It was easy to get him into a situation where he didn't have his cell, but when she came to rescue him, there was no way she'd have left hers behind. So, what the hell, I just had to arrange things so that the help she called in didn't get there too soon.

Cell phones are a big pain to plotting, for sure. They're sort of a deus (or at least 911) ex machina beacon. ;)
 

jaksen

Caped Codder
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 6, 2010
Messages
5,117
Reaction score
526
Location
In MA, USA, across from a 17th century cemetery
Heh, I had to rewrite my last book because while my male teenage protag was the sort to leave his cell phone on the charger, his female BFF had hers permanently attached. It was easy to get him into a situation where he didn't have his cell, but when she came to rescue him, there was no way she'd have left hers behind. So, what the hell, I just had to arrange things so that the help she called in didn't get there too soon.

Cell phones are a big pain to plotting, for sure. They're sort of a deus (or at least 911) ex machina beacon. ;)

In many parts of the country (US) there are major DEAD ZONES. (Thanks AT&T and all you ppl with iPhones using and dling a dozen apps a day!) I live in a densely-populated area outside of Boston MA. How many times a day does my cell phone NOT work? Too many. Go out to Cape Cod, it's even worse.

Until the cell phone providers get enough resources to service all these zillions of calls made a day, 'dead zone' works and it's not forced. (We also get a message which says: Service Area Busy, or similar.) I sometimes have to walk up the road (on Cape Cod) to find a place where I can get a signal, and I've passed other people doing the same. One woman told me, go out to the end of the jetty, reception's great there. :D

And kids do forget to charge their phones. In my last year of teaching, how many times did I hear, "Damn, battery's dead!" in the school corridors? Many many many. (In my school kids could use their phones before or after school.)
 
Last edited:

CaroGirl

Living the dream
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 27, 2006
Messages
8,368
Reaction score
2,327
Location
Bookstores
Devices run out of charge, get forgotten, lost, broken or stolen. There are lots of ways to dispose of technology to make a plot work.
 

veinglory

volitare nequeo
Self-Ban
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
28,750
Reaction score
2,934
Location
right here
Website
www.veinglory.com
There are still a large minority of people who don't have cell phones (the one I have is my first, bought for work reasons) or even computers.
 

dirtsider

Not so new, really
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 8, 2008
Messages
2,056
Reaction score
166
Part of my plot is complicated by the fact that the information my MC's need isn't found on the internet. It's written down in books found mostly in private collections. So while the MC's are able to get at it, it takes a bit of effort to go find it, either by the MC's or their allies. Add in the fact that most of the people who the MC's have to deal with are pretty eccentric, things get fun. Tech and magic generally don't mix because the general attitude is magic is magic and tech is tech.
 

MsGneiss

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 26, 2008
Messages
1,595
Reaction score
262
Location
New York City
Tech and magic generally don't mix because the general attitude is magic is magic and tech is tech.

Definitely. A lot of the urban fantasy books that I really like make it clear, early, quickly, and easily that technology breaks when magic is around. I'll totally buy that - it's not a huge demand on my suspension of disbelief faculties, really, and it doesn't disturb the flow of the narrative or the plot. But in other genres, set in our boring magic-less universe, I do notice that authors have to work extra hard to manipulate the plot so that a protagonist can't just phone for help or look stuff up online... and, occasionally, it's very clumsy.
 

whacko

Keeping up with the class
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 20, 2010
Messages
1,209
Reaction score
177
Location
Glasgow
The other side of the technological coin is that it actually helps drive the narrative. Instead of wasting a few hundred words explaining how your MC managed to get hold of a vital piece of information... he/she can now just Google it or something.

But most classics won't work when you scrutinise them under today's technology. The mobile phone has seen to that. So no more for want of a nail the shoe was lost... One quick call would stop the battle being lost!

There's also a classic movie, Metropolis, set in the future but made in 1929 or something. Fritz Lang, for it was his vision, included skyscrapers and all that stuff. But his vision of futuristic air travel was prop driven bi-planes. A case of close but no cigar.

Yet even with all the marvels we now take so for granted, there will always be one constant -

People going into dark rooms/houses/corridors without a torch.
 

Phaeal

Whatever I did, I didn't do it.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 11, 2008
Messages
9,232
Reaction score
1,898
Location
Providence, RI
Devices run out of charge, get forgotten, lost, broken or stolen. There are lots of ways to dispose of technology to make a plot work.

However, if you keep using these tricks so that your devices NEVER work in a crisis, that's annoying to a persnickety reader like me.
 

SPMiller

Prodigiously Hanged
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 30, 2008
Messages
11,525
Reaction score
1,988
Age
41
Location
Dallas
Website
seanpatrickmiller.com
Obviously, this points to different plotting styles, but I write such that the character can always use every tool at her disposal and still have a hard time of it.
 

Devil Ledbetter

Come on you stranger, you legend,
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 8, 2007
Messages
9,767
Reaction score
3,936
Location
you martyr and shine.
However, if you keep using these tricks so that your devices NEVER work in a crisis, that's annoying to a persnickety reader like me.
Maybe the thing to do is give characters problems that can't be readily solved with a phone call. I can think of lots of those.
 

Monkey

Is me.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 12, 2007
Messages
9,119
Reaction score
1,882
Location
Texas, usually
I got into a very scary real-life situation night before last--I'd tell you about it, but it was bad enough that it's going to make it into one of my stories--and I was on my cellphone, talking to my husband, the whole time.

The problem was, we share a vehicle, and it was with me. And the reception kept cutting out at the worst possible moments, leaving us both with desperate snippets that ramped up the tension rather than calming us down.

Yeah. I'm totally using that. :D

In my recently-finished novel, the main character simply has no one to call. What she's doing is illegal, so the cops are out, and she's hiding it from her husband, so he's out and so is anyone who knows him. Problem is, she's a housewife, and everyone she knows well enough to call when she's up to something illegal also knows her husband.

But yeah...modern tech does make some plots tricky, and some of the old plots are probably gone for good.
 

Jamesaritchie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 13, 2005
Messages
27,863
Reaction score
2,311
Yea, but many times it feels forced and comes out convoluted. And, I do see what you mean... it comes up in contemporary novels all the time, but I don't like it when there are whole paragraphs devoted to explaining why the protagonist can't do the obvious thing, which is use the telephone.

You don't need whole paragraphs. A simple "There was no signal" works fine, just as the escuse use dto be "the lines were down."

And you can also use a setting where cell phones generally don't work well.

There's always a way. And I have no doubt writers worry about this a lot more than readers.
 

rugcat

Lost in the Fog
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 27, 2005
Messages
16,339
Reaction score
4,110
Location
East O' The Sun & West O' The Moon
Website
www.jlevitt.com
My plots often rely on someone being out of touch. And they're set in an urban setting. It's really annoying to have to invent new reasons through every book as to why someone doesn't simpy give someone else a call on their goddamn cell.
 

S.J.

Addict? I can quit whenever I want!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 13, 2009
Messages
536
Reaction score
33
Location
England
I sort of like the fact that technology forces novels to change. It also makes lots of new/cool things possible.

I was thinking about this the other day. I was reading 'Moll Flanders' and the ease with which she can change her name and lie about her past is astounding. There are also several mishaps where characters who don't want to see each other end up in the same place, or where stagecoaches miss each other, etc. With Facebook Locator and Twitter and CCTV cameras and etc, that really wouldn't be possible...
 
Status
Not open for further replies.