Friday, April 20, 2018

How Do You Capture the 1980s in Writing?

Since I am writing something set in the 1980s, the decade I grew up in, I was glad to have found this post

From the post (click above to read more, including interviews with each of the authors):

Alexander Chee: Edinburgh tracks a boy’s long journey forward from a youthful trauma in the ’80s.

Caleb Crain: Though Necessary Errors is set in Prague in the years 1990–91, it has 1989’s Velvet Revolution in the rearview mirror. 

Eleanor Henderson: Ten Thousand Saints follows an adopted druggie teen who discovers the straight-edge punk scene of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s after a personal tragedy.

Grady Hendrix: The lurid thriller My Best Friend’s Exorcism uses the moral panic over “Satanic” metal bands in the ’80s as the framing of its demonic tale.

Michael Kun and Susan Mullen: Their highly anticipated We Are Still Tornadoes, set in the summer of 1982 and told in a series of letters, tackles the relationship of Cath and Scott, who grew up neighbors and find themselves adrift after graduating from high school.

All of these sound good. I now want to read some of them. It's so easy to get tempted by books just by reading about them on blogs. One of these books is told in letter, the format known as the epistolary novel, which was what I was looking for to begin with. I was never a fan of most heavy metal music, but such music is definitive of the '80s.  As is the punk scene  mentioned in the plot of another of the books in the post.

Earlier this week, I mentioned two references I'd made in my book-in-progress that some people may not remember, but that they fit well into the plot. The plot is about getting braces, the before and after, something I cannot seem to recall ever being told in a story. This was one of the reasons I choose this plot line. It was something that carried a stigma back in the 80s and in the decades before. It was not unusual for kids to get teased for their orthodontia, one of the things that Martin, the protagonist of my book, is fearing as he nears getting braces. It was also something I had been wanting for years to write about in a book, so one set in the 1980s  seemed appropriate (The graphic novel Smile is the only book I can recall that told a similar tale). And I wanted to try the epistolary format, namely in the form of a diary. I have seen characters with braces in books, but in most such books, it was just a detail, not a major part of the plot. I do think this is one way to recapture the decade in a novel. 

Another reason I choose to write about the 1980s was to hope to get readers to see what life was like before cell phones and the Internet. Does anyone remember using The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature to look for newspaper and magazine articles on different topics for research papers? This was something I used in my story. (It also came up in my memoir). This maybe a better-known reference from that decade. I had also been toying with the idea of writing a YA/MG novel, and was finding it hard to formulate fiction around the current technology. And I read a lot of historical fiction, and this is the perfect decade for me to write about.



  1. It sounds as if you are following the rules - writing about a time you know, and something you have a passion for.
    I well remember going to encyclopedias for research purposes. And microfiche.

  2. What a wonderful post for you!
    I'm trying to capture the 1880s. Ha.

  3. Writing what you know and are comfortable with is the right way to go. It frees up your creativity to focus on other aspects of the story.

  4. I think it's great for kids today to see what it was like before we had the internet in our pockets.

  5. I do like the pre-tech focus. One of my favorite books is "The Way we Never Were" about misremembered great days in the past. It's more 50s and 60s but a reminder that settings in the past need a lot of objective research. Good luck with your story!

  6. Can you imagine living today without internet or cell phones? Yikes.