Technology exists … And it’s creating ISSUES for us writers. How do I know? Because, in my notes for Bang2writers – screenwriters OR novelists – I frequently end up writing one of these three questions:
1) Why don’t they call somebody? Okay, okay … this one’s easy: they have no signal. Or credit. Yes, it’s become a cinema cliche, particularly in Horror movies as this fantastic montage demonstrates, but who cares, really? All we need to do is forget about the phone in a single, throwaway moment – “No signal” does that. But writers seem to want to draw attention to the phone as a “way out”, often asking the reader to believe the character will want to deal with the problem themselves for some “character building” exercise, rather than, say, call the police like a normal person would.
TIPS: So you don’t like “No signal” or even “no charge” – fine. Get rid of the phone another way. Any way. You’re a writer! You can do it. How you want to deal with it will depend on the situation in hand. In a Thriller, maybe your protagonist is afraid of the phones being bugged, so insists on only meeting people face to face when on the run. In a Horror, maybe your protagonist has a minor car crash that writes off his phone and various other stuff in the car (and strands them, too)? In a Rom-Com, maybe your antagonist wickedly diverts all the calls from the protagonist’s mobile to their own, so the protagonist never gets the call they’re waiting for? And so on.
2) Why don’t they look it up online? Here’s the easy answer to this question: BECAUSE IT’S NOT VISUAL OR DRAMATICALLY INTERESTING IN ANY WAY. So good on the writer for avoiding characters looking stuff up online. But usually I’ve asked this because for the writer has included a nod to the notion of the world wide web for *some reason*, then bringing the internet INTO the story – when you’re better off ignoring it altogether.
TIPS: Yes, that’s right! IGNORE THE INTERNET EXISTS. Don’t mention it. Don’t give it a nod. Pretend it’s not there. It’s a thorn in the backside of any writer, but especially screenwriters. Yes, *technically* you find anything and anyone online if you spend enough time surfing, but that’s BORING. Have your characters pounding the streets with photos, asking people if they’ve seen the people they’re looking for; who wouldn’t do this? Similarly, have your characters visiting libraries and big dusty bookshops and police stations and experts and museums and WHATEVER, just do not have them sitting in front of a screen, EVER. And you know what? Not one person in the audience will say, “Blimey, why didn’t they just go on Facebook?”
3) Don’t they have GPS on their phone? In this age of Blackberries and iPhones and Android phones, you’re never far away from a map, or even an App which will actually tell you where to go and how, even measuring steps for you and showing you which way North is, in case you’re really thick like me. BUT THAT’S IT! That’s the answer – not everyone knows how to use this stuff. So make it a character trait and suddenly – BOOM – you’re out of trouble. But when I read a character is a lost, but is nevertheless using their mobile, this always raises an eyebrow.
TIPS: So one of your characters has a phone with stuff on. Maybe the phone is super high tech and the character is not savvy with that type of stuff? Maybe whoever had it before was a Geek who’d done all sorts of shortcuts on it that makes it practically unuseable to a normal person? Maybe the phone has been set to Arabic, or German or Chinese and they bought it cheap?? You’re the writer. They can’t use the phone’s GPS. End of.
Never mention technology if you don’t have to – and if it stretches credulity that they wouldn’t use technology (especially in terms of life-or-death genre, like Horror and Thriller) then GET RID OF IT. Get rid of it literally – there’s no signal; the phone is smashed/underwater – or get rid of it because no one can use it for *some reason*, same difference.