Setting Your Story When it Happens

Years ago, I was interviewing Highlights editor Marileta Robinson.  She commented that children’s writers really need to get to know kids today before they try writing for Highlights.  When they don’t, it shows, because you can tell that the stories are set in their own childhoods.

I nodded and agreed, because I could see her point.

But I didn’t get it, really get it, until I was at a book club discussion last week about an adult novel.  The novel is set in the present day with frequent flashbacks to the main characters’ high school years which took place in Atlanta in the 1960s.  The baby boomers in the book club were astonished by what went on — partying, permissive parents and the variety of pranks the girls played on each other.  This, they assured us, never ever would have happened in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1960s and we’re pretty sure that Atlanta wouldn’t have been that much more hip and permissive than St. Louis.

In the 1960s.

But fast forward to the 1980s, when two members of the book club were in high school, and this all seemed plausible.  This made us think that the author went to high school in the 1980s.  And it could be true.  Her bio simply says that she’s a baby boomer.  The youngest boomers graduated in 1982.  But high school in 1982 was a very different beast than high school in the 1960s whether you were in St. Louis, Atlanta or San Diego.

So unless you’re basing the story in your own childhood make sure all your facts are accurate!  If you don’t, someone will notice.