Thursday, November 13, 2014

Series Time Slips

I ran into a chronological glitch with the book I'm currently outlining, a sequel to FROM THE DARK PLACES, my quasi-Lovecraftian horror-suspense novel with romantic elements:

From the Dark Places

Its first draft was written in the 1970s, and it remains set in that period, even though it was published decades later. I left FROM THE DARK PLACES in the 70s because I knew one or more sequels would focus on the young adulthood of the baby girl born in that novel, and I didn't want to grapple with a near-future setting that would quickly become embarrassingly outdated. Well, I've taken so long to get around to writing the sequel that I now have the opposite problem. If the heroine had grown up in real time, she would have reached her age in the current WIP, twenty-one, in the 1990s. I don't want to set this book in that decade because there's no plot-based reason for its taking place then, and trying to make it clear to the reader that they're in a near-past setting would only generate confusion. So, even though inconsistencies of that kind bug me, I've decided to fudge the chronology. Although the characters have aged only twenty-one years since the previous book, the action takes place in a vaguely defined contemporary time approximating the present. I won't state an explicit year, but I do plan to include a note to the reader acknowledging that an implicit time slide has occurred.

There's plenty of precedent for this technique in the many comic strips and comic books wherein the setting steadily advances to remain contemporary, while the characters don't age or age very slowly. Think how old Superman would be now if he'd aged along with the surrounding culture. In BLONDIE, Cookie and Alexander grew from children to teenagers (but over a period of decades), then stopped, while Blondie became a business owner and Dagwood switched from catching the bus to riding in a car pool. Technology advances in BEETLE BAILEY, but the characters remain frozen in time. Garfield has birthdays every year, yet nobody in the strip gets any older. Some book series develop the same way. In highly formulaic genres such as classic detective stories, "frozen in time" characters seem to be an accepted part of the convention; Holmes and Watson, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot remain comfortingly static for the most part. (Dorothy Sayers supplies an outstanding exception; Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane do get older, along with Lord Peter's friends and relatives.) I don't think anybody minds that Bertie Wooster and Jeeves remain frozen in time in their highly artificial comedy setting. Kingsley Amis, in his book on Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels, notes that if Bond is really the age he appears to be late in the series, he would have been a schoolboy in CASINO ROYALE. This phenomenon can also occur in books with a closer-to-home, ostensibly realistic setting. Beverly Cleary's Ramona novels, written over several decades, follow Ramona between the ages of about four and ten, while social customs and technology keep pace with the publication years. Diane Duane's Young Wizards series works the same way. A few years ago, however, Duane became concerned that potential new YA readers were put off by the obsolete technology of the earlier books' setting, too far in the past to feel contemporary but not far enough to count as historical. She has reissued the novels as e-books in "Millennium Editions" updated so that the characters are portrayed as (for instance) three years younger three years ago rather than fifteen or twenty.

Does this kind of chronological slippage bother you, or can you usually just go with the flow of the series?

Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

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