Friday, November 11, 2011

Pop Culture References

So I have a lot of pop culture references in my WiP.  Most are lyrics or allusions to bands; I'm heavily influenced by music so those types of references always seems to crop up.  The thing I'm worried about is those details dating my storyline and making it not "current".  I tried to keep most of the bands obscure or semi-unknown so that it won't just be a fad that goes out of style too quickly but it will still be exciting to those who know those bands.  (I hope that makes sense).  Recently I read a excerpt that had an allusion to Ian Curtis and got really excited.  It's not something everyone would know but to me it made the story better and that's what I want to do with my stories.  It's a fine line trying to include pop culture without making the story dated.  There are some pop culture icons that I think will never be dated like The Beatles or Aerosmith.  To me, I include Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift in that category also.  (I hope for my WiP's sake I'm not wrong...)

I've heard the flip side, that authors make up their own bands in order to not date their books.  This is okay in my opinion but if you're trying to convey a really popular band or singer in the story, it's hard to make up the name and have that same connotation (since the readers have never actually heard of them).  I'm thinking about this for my next novel because I'm toying with the idea of featuring a lot of bands/singers, some who I want to be really popular, some that I want to be on the cusp and one that will be the MC's band (which will be easy).  I haven't come to any good conclusion yet on how to show instant popularity without going the pop culture reference route.  The other thing about authors making up their own band names is, I can always tell when they're made up.  They just don't flow as well.  This could be because I was in a band, so constantly coming up with band names is something very familiar to me.

Anyways, that's the idea I'm struggling with right now.  Coming up with a band that has to be obviously huge will require a lot of detail and probably a lot of backstory but it's the decision I'm leaning toward in order to not date my novel, even though using an already very popular band or singer would be so much easier.  But writing isn't supposed to be easy :)


  1. Ultimately, you just have to decide which one serves your MS best. Some novels are meant to be firmly grounded in a particular time period, not necessarily narratives that could take place at ~anytime~. Consider whether it's important that your novel take place during the era in which your pop culture references occur. If not - if the pop culture references are a means rather than an end - maybe they're not as integral to your story as they otherwise seem and you could achieve the same effect with invented references.

    Also - if the band isn't a main part of your plot, you could find subtle ways to convey the cultural importance of that band. Consider how Gayle Forman deals with a famous band/actress in If I Stay/Where She Went. (Not Adam's band - Bikini and Brynn). They're made up but she clearly conveys how huge they are.

  2. Thanks for the advice! If I Stay has been on my to-read list forever so it looks like I might just have to bump it up a few pegs...