Writing For/With/Against the Times

When in writing stories, a magical ability the writer has is that they can set that story in a wide variety of time periods. It can be set in the past, the present, and even the future. As a result, it can set up a number of challenges for you. If you’re writing something that takes place in the past, then that sets up a wide assortment of research for you to conduct on the designated time period. If your story is set in the present, while not a lot of research may be needed, there are always case scenarios where something happens that may or may not impact your present-set story. As for stories that take place in the future, depending on how you want to conduct it, there may be no research needed at all, for it’s a time that’s yet to take place and therefore, what you make of it and how you predict it resides in your hands.

These are basic cases for time-sensitive writing projects. However, to make things even more complex, there are times where in order to get your story not only accurate with the times but overall meeting your level of satisfactory, there are times where a writer may find themselves writing for, with, or even against the times.

To write for the times, you are making sure that it accurately reflects the present day, and while that may sound easy, there are things that are constantly happening in this world that may deter it and if a change isn’t made to accompany it, then it may be seen as not accurately relevant by the time of its release out into the world.

An example can be in the case of author Ruth Ozeki, who had been working and struggling with the story for her much hailed novel, A Tale for the Time Being, for five years when the earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region of Japan in 2011. Knowing that her book at the time suddenly became a pre-tsunami/earthquake novel, she decided to adjust it as to where her second protagonist would find it on the shores close to her Canadian home as debris from the tsunami (which was a common happening the years following). It makes it even more intriguing to know that this book was published almost exactly two years after it happened, which it maybe is the most unique thing about it all; to have a novel take place in the aftermath of an event that happened only a few years before.

To write with the times is similar to writing for the times, but the difference is that to write with the times is an initial decision made by the author to keep up to date with the events in real life as they are writing their story. It’s a decision made when they know in advance that what they’re writing is very time sensitive, which is why by writing with the times, they are able to adjust much more easily if something were to happen that could change the outcome of the story.

There are very few cases that come to mind when I think of this approach to writing, but one that sticks out in my mind is the film, “Back to Bataan.” You might remember me briefly mentioning it before where I talked of how significant the story played in my family’s history. Because it was based on events that were unfolding as the film was being shot, the script was constantly being rewritten to accommodate them, especially when the Battle of Leyte took place near the end of 1944.

To write against the times is a tricky one, because it results in the writer having to approach their story in a mindset that primarily goes against the thinking and ways of the times. This often goes for cases of stories that either take place in the future or in the past, where the thinking and logic may either be no longer relevant or have yet to be. To write against the times is not only a tricky one, but it’s also a risky one too, for it could outcast the writer in society as not being one with the times.

The book that I am currently reading demonstrates that; not so much in its story, but its history. I am reading John Okada’s No-No Boy; which follows the story of a man who is returns to his Seattle community after spending two years in an internment camp and two years in a federal prison during World War II. He was placed in prison after answering no to two survey questions regarding his ability to serve in combat and his loyalty to America and as a result, he must deal with the hardship of being ostracized by his community.

No-No Boy is interesting because technically Okada was writing for his times. That was how many no-no boys were treated in their communities in the aftermath of World War II. The reason that I say the book was written against the times is that this was published in 1957; a time where Japanese Americans were trying to move on and bury this event deep into their past and the government was taking no responsibility for their actions. It took nearly a decade before the book was truly appreciated, when people were ready to start taking about the incarceration and hold the government accountable for it. In a way, one can see how Okada was writing ahead of his time too.

Time may be a man-made illusion, but it’s one that’s very important in not only how we conduct and go about life itself, but also the life and times in the stories that are written. Along with the typical obstacles of setting a story in the past, present, or future, there’s also the consideration as to whether the story is to be told for the times, with the times, or even against it. That’s why I think that even though my second novel is set in the future, it’s making good timing with its release next year, for it thematically speaks to a number of issues and events that have gone on this past year.

A Moment’s Worth is now available through the following venues: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes. Please leave a review if you can, for my goal is to get a total of at least 20 reviews on all venues (so far, I’ve gotten 12 reviews so I’m already just past the halfway point to my goal). Check out its Goodreads page, which includes two trivia quizzes for all who’ve completed reading it already.

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