I’m a Cell-Out: Texting in Text

I know someone who is in the habit of randomly picking up unattended cell phones and reading through the texts found therein.  I don’t know about you, but I feel this is a serious invasion of privacy and more unethical than the nosy phone operators from the sixties who listened in on the party line.

However, this technological eaves-dropping has become quite common in YA books of late.  The key piece of info is texted to the wrong person, or a Facebook Folly creates irrepairable damage to relationships.  Cyber snoopers wreak havoc for the innocent PMer.  The wrong party pic ends up in the wrong hands.  The list is endless and limited only to our imaginations experiences.

Yet I can’t help but wonder about this trend.  Is it a cliche?  An easy out for info gathering?  Reality?  Necessary to engage our readers? 

The thing I like about writing Middle Grade is that the pressure to add these elements isn’t quite there yet.  Though I am under no illusions that, as more kids get phones younger, MG won’t fall victim to the trend/reality sooner rather than later. 

To date, I have only used texting in one of my novels.  My NaNo09.  It actually plays a key role in the suspense and over all story.  I’m not sure how I feel about it, except to say I don’t know if I could have pulled off my plot without it. 

I hate texting in real life.  I dislike it even more in my manuscript.  I think this makes me a hypocrit–being old fashioned and reluctant to integrate, yet needing the ease of texting to create a more plausible plot development.  It makes me feel like a sell-out.  And yet I can’t help but wonder…

Is social networking a necessary component in contemporary fiction?  Have you used these devices in your writing?  If so, how?  If not, how do you feel about the idea in general? 

As a reader, do passages of texting, emails or chats distract from the story at hand or enhance it? 

Am I the last cell-out?

18 responses to “I’m a Cell-Out: Texting in Text

  1. Nope, you’re not. I find blocks of texting-type talk annoying. It doesn’t flow well. Bits and pieces are fine, but not lots.

    But then again, I’m not a kid. 🙂

    I asked my kids (older teens) about people picking up others’ phones and reading through texts and they were surprised. Apparently doesn’t happen within their groups. Or maybe they’re just more paranoid and keep their phones in pockets & purses 🙂

    • Jemi,

      I think it’s interesting that your mini study showed no cell phone abuse by other kids. We’ve had seveal incidents in our little town in the last year or so. Also, sadly, I was referring to an adult who practices peeping at other texts. Yet, I do think that is to very common in kid lit nowadays to have technology play a part in the plot.

  2. I equate this a little with novels written as letters. I’m thinking of The Guernsey Literary etc. It might be a bit hard to get used to at first, but most readers quickly adapt if the plot and characters are interesting.

    I suspect middle grade and teens will be more tolerant of the text format than I would, because I don’t use that particular method of communication and I don’t know all the codes and spelling short cuts.

    • Patricia,

      I think anything unique or different can be adapted to over time. I think the hard thing is learning all the lingo. There is so much shorthand out there that we have to use correctly if we want to be believable. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I don’t use it as a general rule. I don’t understand it, I don’t use it and I think that my discomfort would show.

      And if there’s one thing we have to do as writers is be realistic.

  3. Interesting question. I rather like texting in novels, when done with moderation. There’s something about the economy of it that I find appealingly immediate. In real life, I find my friends’ texts convey quite a lot about their characters. I could never just text a single word to anyone, I have to make a proper preamble and choose my vocabulary, as do my other writer friends. But non-writerly friends are quite happy to be bluntly brief.

    • LOL, Roz. My problem is that I can’t write half sentences and spelling without apostrophes is like fingernails on a chalk board to me. Yet my phone doesn’t have an apostrophe. I’ve changed sentences because of it.

      Yet my kids and friends (mostly nonwriters) seem to have no problem loving the quick and easy format.

  4. I read a lot of futuristic sci-fi where technology is almost always critical to the story. Maybe we always knew we were heading there, hence the gadgets that keep popping up in stories set in modern times.

  5. I think we have to be careful of succumbing of taking everything in real life and putting it into a YA novel, unless it works with the story.

    My feeling is that TV came out, but we don’t have loads of books reading about people watching TV. Same with video games. There’s a reason that reality TV limits talking on the phone and does media blackout. Who wants to watch people watching television or talking on the phone for hours on end?

    I know that phones are a reality in our readers’ lives, but just to show that we’re hip/up on what “the kids are doing” doesn’t make a book better. It’s the story and the characters that will grab them every time.

    Think of the biggest blockbuster books of late. The characters aren’t obsessed with cell phones. For the most part, technology can be mentioned as an accessory of modern life, but except in some cases, they needn’t be the story.

    • Theresa,

      Wonderful point. I tend to think the way you do, however, at a writer’s conference I was at, an pubbed author was talking about how her editor told her she had to put the technology into her next manuscript if she wanted it to ever get published. That’s a lot of pressure to conform.

  6. I don’t mind texting or IM passages in books, but only as long as there aren’t a lot of abbreviations being used. I think that texting will become a part of novels just like cell phones have – just another communication tool available to the characters.

    I really like emails in books, though, the same way I enjoy books that incorporate letters.

    • Belle,

      I recently (about a year ago) read a book that had an astronomical amount of texting in it and it was predominantly the short hand version. I didn’t know half of what the characters were saying and I ended up so frustrated I left the book behind in the hotel when I left.

      So, I think you make a good point. If we use it, we need to be mindful that it has to be done seemlessly, otherwise it detracts from the novel.

      One of the things I dislike about its use is that it is often the big key to solving the mystery or creating the big drama. To me, that is over done and cliched.

  7. Cate, my characters use a cell phone very sparingly and never text. Not because they can’t, but because it wouldn’t work in the story. I know it sounds almost unheard of for a YA novel, but there’s a reason for it. And honestly I don’t think any readers will miss it. I don’t like texting in real life, but my kids can do it blindfolded– literally. Maybe I’m one of the last cellouts, too. 🙂

    • TK,

      Crazy, isn’t it? My daughter has the fastest fingers this side of the Mississippi River. It almost hurts me to watch her. Me, I’m painfully slow on the texting.

      I think you’ll be fine without the texting. I enjoy the books that don’t have it in there, or at most reference it such as she pulled out her phone and called…rather than she walked to the pay phone on the corner! Boy that makes me old just thinking about those days!

  8. Hmmm, I’m not sure I’ve read many books that feature texting, but I suppose that as with any plot device, so long as it’s not overused I won’t get bored with it. The abbreviations used in texting very quickly become annoying to me in real life, nevermind how quickly I’d tire of it in a book.

    • Christina,

      The abbreviations are definitely more annoying than simple texting. I don’t understand half of what they mean. Of course, I think that’s the purpose…to keep parents from the know!

  9. I have tried to text a few times, but I’m doing something wrong, because they have come back to me with an error message!

    In writing, I think that it could be a useful tool, but as you say, I think that it needs to be used carefully so as not to become cliché.

    • Layinda,

      Don’t sweat it. I know how, but I don’t like to text. Just yesterday, DH pointed out the I’m the world’s worst texter. In the history (as my six year old says)! I don’t know that you’re missing too much by not joining the ranks of fast fingered communicators across the globe.

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