The Internet Can Kill a Good Writing Buzz

Does the name William Zabka mean anything to you?

Maybe not. But William Zabka is an actor, screenwriter, director, and producer who has a pretty extensive and impressive IMDB page. If you look at the photo of William Zabka on that same page, he looks like a well-adjusted guy you might chat with at your kids’ soccer game.

But William Zabka is best known (to me, anyway) as the mean nemesis in The Karate Kid.

This brings me to the point of today’s blog post: writers rely heavily on our memories for material. For example, when I’m writing a mean kid character, I often think back to the mean kids I used to know. Sometimes I can still feel that dread I felt walking onto the campus of my junior high school, hoping I wouldn’t cross those kids’ paths. This is great material when bringing a fictional character to life.

The dilemma for writers nowadays is, there’s a good chance that some of those people from our past who serve as archetypes for us actually grew up to be well-adjusted, nice people. And frankly, I don’t want to know this.

Not that I’m not happy for them and all (I mean, let’s hope we’ve all evolved since our school days!), but the metamorphosis messes with my head. If I look up a scary figure from my junior high who had us all living in fear, it taints things for me to learn that he’s now a special education teacher and father of three who likes to participate in chili cookoffs for charity. But all this information is usually out there, wide open on the Internet, for the mere click of a button. And that’s hard to resist. Knowing how a story ends–even or especially if it’s a real person’s story–holds a serious draw for writers. We’re curious, so maybe we click. And then the present adulterates our memories of the past. But I need the teen blonde karate jerk of my memory to stay a teen blonde karate jerk.

In a similar vein, what about the heartthrobs of my youth who might inspire a dreamy love interest for one of my young characters? I want them to live forever in my memory as young, beautiful creatures. I don’t want to know that they fell prey to the ravages of time and have embraced socks with sandals or Haband slacks. But it’s so hard not to look! And when you do, what a buzz kill. How can you make your protagonist fall in love with someone when in the back of your mind, you know he’ll be wearing Haband slacks in thirty years? You can’t.

When I wrote Tig Ripley, Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel, I was partially inspired by my dad’s rock band from the 1960s. He told such great stories about the guys in the band, and I pictured them in my mind. Sure, my dad had a few little black and white photos, but the lead singer was never in them, and my father never knew what became of him. I always liked to imagine that he’d been handsome and had gone on to have James Dean-esque adventures. And because there was no Google search bar to type his name into, I never knew otherwise. I believe the lead singer has passed away now, but from what I can tell, he never had a social media page, so my imagined version of his life remains the only one I know about. And I kind of treasure that.

It’s so easy to know so much now, but do we really want to know?

Alas, how can we save ourselves from such tempting technology?

 

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