Thanks to my incredible foresight, I’d also neglected to bring an umbrella despite the dark skies in the morning, and I’d already had to run through the rain from the office to the bus stop. Although there are regular buses between the city and the local shopping centre, buses between the shops and my house are few and far between late at night. Normally this isn’t a problem, because I can take a 30 minute walk, or call home and ask for a lift.
That night, it was pouring and my mobile was just about dead.
Fear not, this story has a happy ending, because the battery had enough juice left to make that call and I got home mostly dry. But it did get me thinking about how being always reachable, whether by mobile or internet, has changed how we live—and more importantly (to me), has changed how we tell stories.
Once upon a time, if someone was out of the house, there was just about no way to reach them. You’d need to go out there and find them in person, or know where they were and call the landline there, if there even was one. If you were in the middle of nowhere, you’d need to get back to town in order to reach someone else. That, or be very good at smoke signals, and hope there was someone else who could read them.
If Juliet had simply been able to give Romeo a ring to tell him of her plan to fake her death (for how many teenagers don’t have mobiles these days?), things would surely have ended differently in Shakespeare’s play. Or just imagine how much trouble—and tension—would have been saved by all those child detectives in olden day adventure stories, if each time they came across those dastardly villains out in the moors, or hidden in caves, they could simply whip out a mobile and dial 000. There are always excuses for why someone would be unreachable, of course, but you can only use them for so long.
Having mobiles, and internet, has greatly changed the pacing of stories. Gone are the days when you would need to rely on someone to deliver a note, or wait for a letter to arrive. Now, news travels fast. Things happen very quickly, and unless you’ve contrived to have your characters cut off from the world, it’s much harder to create tension through ignorance. It’s nearly impossible to be out of contact for more than a day.
It’s a reflection of our always-connected lives, of how it’s now become a problem to be unreachable. Of how it’s no longer common to wait for news in the letterbox, revelling in the joy of pages of handwritten updates—after all, phone calls, SMSes and the internet can give us all those updates now. As our own, personal stories move much more quickly, so too do the stories that we tell. Fantasy worlds, without modern technology, and dystopian worlds, where modern technology has been outlawed or restricted, are garnering increasing popularity these days. Perhaps it’s our subconscious desire to escape the increasingly frenetic pace of living.
And really, slowing our stories back down isn’t such a bad thing. Much like how having longer gaps between our communications with friends can allow us to spend more time reflecting on those overlooked parts of life, so too can spacing out the events allow our characters time to reflect.
A solitary walk late at night where the streets are almost abandoned; where the light from the street lamps is scattered and distorted through the fat drops of rain that fall like glowing jewels all around; where the only sounds are the occasional passing car and the sound of your footsteps splashing through puddles on the sidewalk; where the fresh, damp smell that comes with the rain and lingers after is in your every breath… who’s to say that having an interlude like that, before ending the scene and moving on to the next event, will make a story plod instead of fly?
Hm. Maybe my happy ending wasn’t such a happy ending after all.
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.