There’s this argument that fantasy should be timeless, that to anchor a story in the now is to somehow give fiction a use-by date, that it’s the writer’s aim, to produce timeless prose, and that you should avoid pop-cultural references because they immediately date a novel.
Well, listen up, all fiction has a use-by date (usually six to twelve weeks after publication*).
When I write Urban Fantasy I’m writing about the now: my characters’ now. Which in the Death Works series is pretty much 2010. If you’re writing about people in their mid-late twenties early thirties who actually engage in the world as opposed to being separate from their culture. Well, they’re going to be listening to contemporary music. They’re going to be using some sort of social media – and probably bitching about it. And they’re going to have a pretty sophisticated knowledge of how media works and interacts with their lives.
Which means, dependent on the group, they’re going to watch read, listen to, and eat things of their time. Which means Pop Culture. And if you do it well, it really shouldn’t date your fiction.
What dates fiction isn’t the mise-en-scene, it’s the social mores and assumptions within. It’s the writer themselves. Timeless fiction, is at once deeply of its time and universal (easy, right). You’ve got no control over that, but one thing that won’t create timeless prose is a series of arbitrary rules – including this one.
Our society, our time, gives us taste, colour, vocabulary. Be careful that if you’re aiming for timeless prose what you’re not really aiming for is bland. That’s simple enough without trying.
Leave Time to sort out the timeless, and just write the best you can.
What fiction do you think is truly timeless?
*OK, I work in a bookstore, where my main job is to do returns (that is send back the books that don’t sell), and I have run the returns department at several bookstores. My view on the lifecycle of a book is a bit different to most readers and writers.