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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fear and the Ringing Phone

Last fall, I wrote a line in a work-in-progress featuring two teenagers and what I thought was a phenomenon of the younger crowd: being freaked out by a phone call.

You know, just your average, out-of-the-blue ringing phone. The same kind of call we’ve had ever since Alexander Graham Bell patented the thing in 1876. Which also happens to be something today’s teenagers are pretty adverse to because they prefer texting to talking.

So, the scene went like this: My main character (MC) calls her best friend with good news and when her BFF picks up she immediately says, “Please tell me your dad didn’t get shot.”

No, the MC says, her father (a cop) didn’t get shot.

“Christ. Why the hell are you calling then? Wait, it’s not your mom, is it?”

No, the MC says, her mother (who has cancer) is fine. And then she finally gets to the exciting, story-moving news.

I was pretty proud of myself for that scene because I felt it was true-to-life for today’s teens. That it was something that set them apart in their life experience and I felt like it worked well.

But now I’ve developed my own fear of the phone.

Weeks after I wrote that scene, I got some really horrible, shocking news. By phone. Because it’s not something you’d text and the person calling didn’t live near me.

I’ve had a huge fear of unexpected phone calls ever since. Rather than being excited when my husband or my parents call, I freak out if they call without a warning text. My brain automatically flashes horrible images through my mind of something gone wrong—a car wreck, a heart attack, an accident.

I struggle to answer or I don’t answer at all. I don’t want to hear it.

Obviously, I’m hoping that this will change for me over time. But it got me thinking: As writers and readers, we’ve all read or written a scene that takes place over the phone. It’s a utility of modern writing and it’s often crucial to deceive or PI work. Many contemporary books will also include bits of dialogue exchanged in text. Again, this is useful and normal.

How do your characters communicate? What does it say about them? Or what does it say about you?


Jim Jackson said...

My daughter is generation Y and is more comfortable with texting than phone calls. I’ve found that if I text her and ask her to call me, she will. If I just call, it goes to voicemail. My grandkids use Facetime (Apple girls based on their college-professor father’s technology preferences.) They rarely use a phone for its original purpose. I think they text with their friends, but not so much with us because they know we are old school.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

If the phone rings late at night I wonder why someone is calling and I suspect it is bad news.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

If the landline rings after 11pm, it's bad news from one of the kids, who know we leave our cell phones in the kitchen at night. One night, it was a wrong number call,a crazy-scared kid trying to call his mama to spring him from the emergency room of a Cincinnati hospital.

I called the hospital ER and explained the situation. They searched the place and called me in the morning to tell me they had never found the kid.

Sarah Henning said...

Jim, you sound exactly like my parents and all their friends with their kids. You're not alone!

Margaret, that's a crazy story. I wonder what happened to him!

Gloria Alden said...

I don't have a smart phone, and only a small tracfone because my kids insisted I get something when I walk in the woods or drive somewhere. Only my 3 kids have the number so most of the calls I get on that are annoying promotional calls from tracfone wanting to sell something, I think it's from them,because I don't recognize the number. So I don't text. I'd much rather hear a real voice - exept for those robo calls - even though sometimes it is bad news. Fortunately, it rarely is. The only calls I get after 11:00 p.m. are almost always a wrong number. Personally, I can't imagine anything more annoying than hearing that constant little beep signalling an incoming text when I'm walking in the woods. I find it annoying when I'm with someone, who feels the need to constantly check their phone, too, unless it's for a real reason.

Kait said...

Wonderful post. Sent me back to my days as the proud teenage owner of a Princess phone. OK, those who know, raise your hands! Age and experience seemed to play a part in the ringing phone reaction in those days. In these days of text don't dial, it must be a very different world. Quick, short, fun, and sometimes snipey, things come by text. The sound of a ringing (chiming, rapping, whatever) cell does portend fear. What is it that has to be said voice to voice, or that shouldn't be said in print. It's a whole different world. But there is one advantage...the called usually knows who the caller is! I admit, I'm still a voice to voice person for most things. My texts seem to be relegated to pick up milk. For most everything else, I want to hear the nuances that text can't accommodate. But I think the most fearful sound for any parent is the sound of a ringing phone when your kids are not home. True anxiety!

E. B. Davis said...

My characters phone and text, which is what I do. My daughter always texts--a good thing in the middle of the night so it doesn't wake up the whole house. The weird thing is that my son and I tend to email each other--don't know why. My husband and I mostly call, but occasionally when he is at a jobsite and doesn't want prying ears, he texts. But a friend of mine always texts--which bugs me. She's almost as old as I am. Why doesn't she just call! When it's my kids, I tolerate it. But friends of advanced age should call. I always feel like we're adolescents texting each other. Talking conveys so much more by tone of voice, inflection, etc. My daughter sometimes uses those emoticon things, which I hate!

Kara Cerise said...

It's usually bad news when my phone rings after 11 pm. But sometimes a friend who lives in an earlier time zone will forget about the time difference and call. I've learned to take a deep, calming breath before I answer the phone at night.

Some of my historical characters use the telegraph. It's interesting to me that the abbreviations they used over 100 years ago are similar to abbreviations used in today's text messages.

KM Rockwood said...

I don't get reliable cell phone service where I live, so I never bothered to get much of a cellphone. I do have a cheapie trac phone for emergencies--if I walk to a high point, I can usually pick up a signal.

I do email quite a bit. For one thing, the recipient doesn't need to be immediately available, and I can read the e-mail before I send it off to make sure I haven't inadvertently said anything inflammatory.

It's only been a little over a year since I retired from teaching at an alternative high school. I have always been struck by how people assume all kids have cell phones, when most of my students did not. Or computers. Some of them didn't have telephones in their homes, and in some cases, they had no electricity.

Yet the school system persisted in assuming everyone has internet access, everyone can make and receive phone calls, etc.

This puts already disadvantaged kids at even more of a disadvantage. They usually don't want to admit they don't have access to these things, so they act like they don't care, and often act out when the question arises.