Thursday, July 16, 2009

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter

How to keep your characters current with our ever-changing technology: just when you give that high-powered lawyer a Palm pilot, everyone has moved onto to BlackBerries, and iPhones. Did Dickens worry about things like this? We recently had a conversation in my writing group about whether someone’s character realistically would be reading a local, morning newspaper at a hotel in late 2010—maybe (I hope so anyway), but I believe the writer changed that to catching the local morning news on TV.

Tough question, and Carollyne Hutter is here to explore the role of technology in our writing. You may remember that Carollyne posted previously about writing for teens and about helpful resources for YA authors.

Technology in Their Lives

By Carollyne Hutter

A friend sent an email that startled me. I stared for a few minutes at the screen before responding. I had asked him a reference question. He had written back: “It’s lucky you caught me. I only check my emails once a week.”

Once a week? As a freelance writer/editor, I have a close relationship with technology, particularly emails, since my bosses contact me 24/7 with their BlackBerrys.

My friend’s email spurred me to think how dependent writers are on technology, and yet many writers I know don’t include, or rarely mention, technology in their fiction writing. Their characters live in low-tech worlds.

When I decided to write a young-adult (YA) novel, I went around asking other YA writers how they deal with teens and technology. Most said they avoided it, yet many teens mainline technology all day. What gave the teen series Twilight a gothic, old-time feel to it was the lack of technology in the heroine’s life. To me, this absence of teen technology was much more bizarre than her falling in love with a vampire.

As writers, we really should embrace technology in our characters’ lives because our characters use of technology is such a telling detail—just as what clothes they wear, what cars they drive, what they keep on their nightstands are all telling details.

My friend’s comment about only checking emails once a week conjures up an image of a low-tech person, doesn’t it? Just like as the opposite presents a picture: I have a colleague who always checks his emails on his BlackBerry during meetings, even if it’s a small meeting of three people. Or how about this—a friend who appears as a typical suburban soccer mom actually has her own biting, left-wing political blog under a pseudonym. Very telling.

I can understand a writer’s hesitation to deal with technology. I used to joke that I set my YA, Homesick, in 1989 so I wouldn’t have to deal with teen technology.

But the strange thing is I miss technology. Brigit, the heroine of my YA, has to fax her boyfriend in Germany. How slow is that? Or when she needs information, she has to trot down to the library, instead of checking it out on the web.

It’s actually been harder than I thought to leave out technology and go back to a time before cell phones, emails, and the Internet were popular. It’s probably been just as hard for me to exclude technology, as other writers tell me it is to include it.

About: For over a decade, Carollyne Hutter has been a freelance writer/editor in the Washington, DC area, specializing in international and environmental topics. Please visit her website— — to read Carollyne’s stories, essays, and nonfiction pieces. You can contact her at


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.