Dennis Coslett

I am a writer and novelist. Welcome to my blog and website. Here, you can learn what is going on in my life and in my writing career.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cell Phones

I have been thinking lately about the role of the cell phone in modern fiction. There are several reasons for this. First, I recently completed Stieg Larsson's Milenium Trilogy. It seemed that everyone in those books, or most of them at least, had a cell or "mobile" phone, and used them regularly. Second, I am rereading the book HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL, and this book includes a section on the cell phone and the effect it has had on modern fiction. And, finally, I am rewriting one of my old manuscripts with an eye toward publishing it later in the year. One of the things I have been doing in the course of this rewrite is to update the technology in the novel. My private detective character no longer carries a notebook, and he no longer uses a miniature tape recorder to record conversations. He can, and does, do this with a smart phone.

So, is the cell phone a game changer for the modern writer? It can be, but it doesn't have to be. The thing that occurs to me, as a pro self-defense conservative, is that the cell phone is not a magic wand. HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL (hereafter, HNTWAN) seemed to suggest that it could be. But I don't believe this is necessarily true.

HNTWAN suggested a scenario in which your character is trapped by a monster in a warehouse in Brooklyn. All he has to do is to call 911. I can see two things wrong with this scenario, or, more accurately, two points it does not consider.

First, there is a time lag between when your hero calls 911 and help arrives. Even the best American police departments can easily take 10 minutes or more to respond to emergency calls. This is because police staffing levels are such that the police are rarely close enough to be on your doorstep -- they have a lot of ground to protect, and a limited number of officers to do it with. Even if they are able to come immediately, American courts have ruled that the police do not have to protect you, the individual. In practical terms, this means that a hiker trapped in the mountains can call 911 and still be eaten by bears before Mountain Rescue can arrive. Or the monster can kill the hero trapped in the warehouse before the first cop comes anywhere near the place. In other words, assuming your hero gets the chance to call 911 at the start of an incident, he is still on his own until the cops show up.

This leads into my second point. Your hero still has to fight the beast or villain that has him trapped. He still has to survive until the police can come. I don't know about you, but I don't generally like heroes and heroines who passively wait for someone else to save them. I expect the hero, the protagonist, the central character of your novel to fight, talk, or charm his way out of the deadly situation by himself. Having a cell phone in no way allows your hero, in my opinion, to abdicate responsibility for hs personal safety to others. Many do in this world, but that doesn't mean that your hero should be one of them. He's the hero, dammit.

That's assuming he even has the chance to call 911, which is another matter.

I know that what I have written here probably won't convince anyone. I doubt it is even that original a thought. It is just my arguments as to why the cell phone, while important, isn't necessarily a total game-changer. At the end of the day, your hero is still the hero, and he still needs to take care of business himself.

5:02 pm cdt          Comments

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About me: I have been writing since the early 1980s, ever since discovering a passion for writing during my senior year in High School. My completed writings include novels, short stories, and newspaper articles. I have completed four novels in that time, and have partially completed two others. I have had little success in finding an agent or a publisher for any of my novels, and have recently taken my efforts online. During the years that I have been writing, I have also served my country as a member of the United States Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps. In the last five years, I have been deployed to Army bases in Iraq, Kansas, and Virginia.

Look for my novel Taylor Made, available from and taylor_made_banner.jpg