A question of “When?”

image via wikipedia
image via wikipedia


When Anastasia Krupnik decides to become a journalist in Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Has the Answers, she starts every story with the questions “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, “Where?”, and “Why?”. Basic questions that compile the elements of any story, whether true or fictional.

As I work on the structure of my novel, I find myself ticking most of the boxes next to these questions. I’ve written this story at least five times now. I know my characters and their motivations. I know the location, and I know the action that takes place. But the one thing I’m struggling with is the time period: “When?”.

So much of the high school experience is universal. The pains of puberty. Trying to work out how to dress yourself, and where you fit in the social hierarchy (and whether there is any correlation between those two things). Feelings of loneliness and alienation. Saying and doing the stupidest things (and not necessarily realising exactly how stupid they were at the time).

But so much of it is time specific. The fashions – ugg boots, havaianas, one-shoulder tops. The art of perfecting your MSN display name and away message. Inter-school debates about topical things like Big Brother and Aung San Suu Kyi. The feeling of betrayal when Prue died on Charmed.

We didn’t have Facebook. MySpace wasn’t a thing until year 12. I used to make websites on Angelfire and Geocities before I moved to LiveJournal (under a super-cool pseudonym, of course). Most of us had phones, but they didn’t have the Internet on them. Digital cameras were fancy and expensive. And my most prized possession in years 11 and 12 was my iPod – at $600 it was the most expensive thing I owned.

The first draft I ever wrote of A-Z was set during my own high school years, around 2003. I avoided computers, phones were used for calls and text messages only, and I may or may not have included one or more references to the hottest nu-metal band of the early 2000s, Linkin Park.

Later drafts added a pivotal scene involving a camera phone, and the bullying continued from the schoolyard into the online spectrum. YouTube and Facebook entered the story, but I’m not sure that they belong there. With social media and the digital landscape rapidly growing and changing, it seems that their inclusion dates the story more than their exclusion. The youth of today aren’t even using Facebook – they prefer less permanent formats, like Snapchat.

Stripped down to the basic plot, my story doesn’t need the most up-to-date technology or relevant social media. It would fit perfectly into my high school years, the period in which I first envisioned it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not suited to the present. With a bit of research, I could bring it forward, and update the setting to reflect today’s experiences. I’m just not sure if that’s the right decision to make.

What do you think? Should I write the specific high school experiences that I remember from the early-mid 2000s, or should I try to write in the present, to reflect the world that today’s young adults have grown up in?  What would Anastasia Krupnik do?


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