I was reading Hunk for the Holiday by Katie Lane, in it the main character has hired an escort to be her date to a family party but, through some miscommunication, ends up with someone else who she doesn’t realize isn’t an escort until after they have fallen in love. Part of the way this mistake happened is because she left her cell phone in the office over a holiday weekend, so she didn’t have way for people to get in touch with her. This got me thinking about miscommunication in the age of technology. A large part of the conflict and trials that characters go through in novels is because of miscommunication, either someone says something that is interpreted by the other character incorrectly or one of the characters has to be out of range of communication. Twenty years ago this wasn’t as big of a problem, the character would leave the office or their home and immediately be out of communication range. But we live in a day of smart phones, internet cafes and free wifi everywhere, you can ask just about any stranger on the street to borrow their cellphone. So how does an author of a contemporary genre believably effect this miscommunciation?
I think some of it has to do with the location of the setting of the story, if the story takes place in rural Nebraska and a serial killer is after the main character but cell reception is spotty at best, believable. But if the killer is chasing after someone on the streets of NY, not so believable, why wouldn’t the character just call the police?! Granted, you can always pull the “forgot to charge my cellphone” gimmick but you can only believable get away with that once, maybe twice in the story before it becomes so ridiculous that it is irritating. What really got me thinking about this topic was the main character in Hunk for the Holiday is a control freak, all the characters talk about her in charge attitude, she admits to being in control and yet she willingly left her cellphone at the office for two whole days. I am connected to my cellphone, if I leave to run to the grocery store without it I feel like I have left a limb at home, so I struggled about with this one fact in the story. Would someone who is a control freak willingly leave their cellphone some place else without doing something to go get it?
But then again, in some ways it becomes easier for miscommunication to occur in the age of cell phones. For example, if a cell phone is lost or broken and the main character goes home where killer is waiting, with no home phone (because many people only have cell phones, no home phones at all) then the main character is much more vulnerable without any convoluted explanations as to why the phone line isn’t working.
So what do you think? Is this something that can make or break a believeable story or is it such a minor detail that it doesn’t really matter?