Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Is It Possible to Avoid Phoney Writing?


No, that’s not a misspelling. I’m starting to realize as a writer that unless I get on board with reality my writing will be doomed to become phoney.

I’m not referring to fake, insincere, or even cheesy prose. The phoney I refer to the ubiquitous phone of the present. Writing a contemporary story means the phone automatically becomes a character because like the credit card ad of yesteryear once stated: we don’t leave home without it.

Thanks, Karl

Think about it. Phones today are part of us, attached by an invisible tether. They go everywhere we go. They are little companions traveling along with us every step of our life within reach and expected by others to be on hand when they want to reach us.

A comfort or a curse to be so readily able to communicate with others is a different pause for thought.

As a writer, I cannot ignore that a phone is part of a character if the setting is 21st century. Quick history check shows a portable phone being available in the ‘90s, but wasn’t readily in use. Then Apple came out with the iPhone in 2007 and the world has not been the same.

My kids dealt with flip phones in high school and not all students owned a phone. We only submitted to the need of instant communication when they began driving. My oldest son, being the effective salesman that he is, talked us into switching over to the iPhone on a fabulous family package with a leading carrier in the mid 2000’s and we haven’t looked back.

I’m glad my children had a phone free childhood. I did and I am living proof that I survived. Okay, a phone in my back pocket would have been handy more than a couple of times, but I managed. Do kids today even know what a phone booth is?

A real kid. Yet he is phoney.

So, here is the dilemma. When I write a story set in today’s time the phone has to be part of the story. Think about it. Do you know anyone who doesn’t own a smartphone? If you do then that would make for an interesting story.

Adults have phones. Fact. I don’t want to deal with phones in my story necessarily. Instant access. Texting. Voice mail. Low battery. Social media. Added work. Added complications.

That’s why I write mainly for children. Wait—kids have phones, not just teens. I’m seeing nine year olds walking around with devices that cost what used to be a down payment on my first car. Saw pre-teen at the library slip his sleek little smartphone out of his back pocket and called home. Spielberg’s E.T. could not have happened if the little space dude had landed a few years later in the world’s timeline. He would have had a phone with him or just borrowed a smartphone.

This is one reason I write picture books. Phones are still in the background as fuzzy actualities not needing to be in the story unless I absolutely, positively think it’s necessary. Middle read stories can be challenging because smart phones are beginning to be part of their world. Nope. They are part of their world. Definitely in YA.

This is disconcerting. I want to write sincere, character-driven stories, yet I can’t ignore the smartphone. Phones become characters with definite needs. They cannot be ignored. The dilemma of becoming a phoney writer is daunting.

I don’t think I am the only one pondering this issue. Has anyone else noticed the surge in historical fiction these days?

The phone is here to stay, but maybe I will have to dial into the more creative aspect of my world building and see if my characters can manage life without being phony or phoney.

Would a remake be titled Smartphone?

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11 thoughts on “Is It Possible to Avoid Phoney Writing?

  1. I know I’m supposed to be too young for curmudgeonhood, but I think none of these kids need phones …and, yet, you’re right. Annoying.

  2. My MG novel in verse is set in the late 80s for historical reasons, thank goodness. I’m trying to figure out what to do with my next novel. It’s a reality that we need to deal with, kind of like COVID.

  3. As a kid I used to ask my mother why no one in her soap operas uses the bathroom. She tells me I used to sit with her and patiently wait for someone to say, “Can you excuse me for a moment … ?” Of course it never happened. And why should it? It wasn’t necessary to the plot. And that is how I would treat the phone.

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