Most writers aspire to publish a book that will remain popular among future generations of readers. Gary McPherson offers five things to consider if you want your book to remain relevant for years after its release.
When we start writing our books, most of us aren’t thinking, “Gee, I wonder how relevant this will be in five years?” We assume our masterpiece will be just as important in five years as it is today. If we are honest, we probably believe our long hours of research, writing, re-writing, blood, sweat, and tears will outlive us and continue to fly off bookstore shelves while our great-grandchildren are walking the earth.
Of course, the reality is that our books do age, and sometimes not very well, whether you are a fiction or nonfiction writer. My books focus on fictional characters, settings, and timelines. However, the stumbling blocks that can make a story fall flat can also trip up works of non-fiction. Here are five points I consider as I write my books to keep them relevant as they age:
1. Avoid aging references without context.
Everyone today uses a smartphone because of the computer power and software that reside in their small frame. However, very few people born after 1995 probably remember what a bag phone was. Anytime you are referencing technology, politics, automobiles, etc. always give them context. Assume your grandkids are going to pick up your book and read it one day.
2. What is the truth you are trying to convey?
You may not consider yourself a truth teller. Maybe your book is simply documenting the political divides in the U.S that currently exist. You may see it as more of a reference book than anything philosophical. However, all books contain a message, whether explicit or implicit. In your quest for pulling together facts of the day you should consider how you organize your information and ask yourself, “In five years will this book be seen as a source of warning, a source for research, or will it simply be brushed aside as trivial facts?”
3. Avoid using outliers of the day to drive your story into an unrelatable tale.
In my novel, Joshua and the Shadow of Death I decided to take on the murky and somewhat dull world of government contracts and corruption. If the focus of my tale had simply been a business intrigue story, the book would age poorly, and it would put my readers to sleep. I used the idea of government corruption because it is something that is not unique to today. Government corruption occurs over and over throughout history. I believe it is safe to assume that power and corruption will continue to go hand in hand well into the future. I used this rather timeless concept to push my characters towards their conflicts, resolutions, and growth. Using recurring events as a catalyst is a great way to make your story feel fresh and relevant far into the future.
4. Don’t make judgments about the past or the future from today’s perspective.
There is a push to judge the past by the standards of the present. Although this sort of work may sell books today, there is a real danger with writing only from the view of contemporary norms and mores. What may seem true or virtuous today, may not be viewed the same way five years from now. As a result, such writing ages poorly. Worse, you can find yourself a victim of your arguments later in the future, and thus render your hard work obsolete. Comparing the past to the present in regards to improvements or where things have not improved, will still be meaningful in ten years. Attempting to put a stake in the ground and claim this point and time in history will forever be the correct way to view the world does not age well.
5. You cannot predict the future, but truth surpasses time.
I am a huge Star Trek fan, particularly of the original series. Being the son of a rocket engineer in the ’60s and 70’s stoked my interest in space and science fiction. However, when I watch the original Star Trek series on Hulu now, I cringe at some of their references to how technology will look in the vast reaches of space. Even the great time traveling tale Back to the Future has not aged well, mostly because we all hoped to be driving flying cars by now.
In fiction, you should use settings in the future world sparingly. If your vision of a dystopia or utopia falls flat in 10 years, a strong theme could carry your story as long as the future isn’t its core message. In the Star Trek episode “Space Seed” a reference to transistors as advanced technology is a forgettable foible 51 years later because the focus is on a man named Khan. He is painted as an antagonist that is equal to or greater than the protagonist Captain Kirk. Through their conflict, the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry examines the collision of past prejudices and the humanity of the future—which values all living beings just as they are—allowing us to forget the outdated setting.
Gary McPherson’s breakthrough thriller “Joshua and the Shadow of Death” tackles relevant, real world issues. National security, government contracts and greed fuel this dramatic, quick read. McPherson’s battle with Behcet’s disease, as well as his own personal adoption story, provide a unique perspective on a tale that explores suicide, separation anxiety and berserker (blind rage) syndrome. Joshua, and his journey through the shadows, encourages us to think about how we react to life’s traumas. Visit him at https://gmacwriter.com/ to learn more.