Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bridging the Generation Gap

By Marilyn Baron

I thought the generation gap was anytime I shopped at The Gap and tried to fit into their clothes.

I discovered the generation gap big time when I took one of my daughters to the movies in Roswell, Georgia, in October 1993, to see the premiere of “Cool Runnings.” The movie is based on the story of the Jamaican national bobsled team’s debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.

We were sitting behind Ted Turner and Jane Fonda (they were married at the time). Jane was in great shape. She wore her hair up in a ponytail and she looked like a teenager. I got up the nerve to introduce myself and my daughter, who was only seven at the time. I was excited that she would get to meet a famous movie star.

“Amanda, do you know who Jane Fonda is?” I prompted.

“Yes,” she answered without hesitation. “She’s the lady in the exercise video.”

Sixteen years later, my husband and I took Amanda (now 23) to the premiere of the new Star Trek movie. When William Shatner made a guest appearance, she said, “That’s Denny Crane (the star of Boston Legal). She also knew him as the spokesperson for She knew nothing about his roles in the earlier Star Trek films.

We face the same generation gap in our writing. If I write about an event or use an expression we used in the “olden days” when I was growing up, we risk confusing our younger readers.

For example, younger readers might not “get it” if I referenced Marlon Brando’s plaintive cry, “Hey, Stella!” from A Streetcar Named Desire or Raymond Burr’s call to his secretary “Della,” in an episode of Perry Mason. They may think I’m talking about designer Stella McCartney or Stella Artois, a table beer.

How do you bridge the generation gap in your writing?


Carol Burnside said...

LOL, Marilyn. I've encountered some of these same "gaps" with my children.

It's difficult sometimes, finding just the right reference to make a point. However, if you've got an older character in your books, it might be fun to add a little humor with the "gap" between her speech and how the younger characters interpret it.

Susan said...

i loved a street car named desire! i am only 28, but i feel what you are talking about. i can't shop at a lot of popular places either. they are all "skinny" looking and well, i am not in that category!

Marilyn Baron said...


Good idea. I do have older characters in my books. But I've never quite tried that approach.

Oh, to be 28 again! I have another daughter who is also 28. It helps to have two daughters in their
20s. That's my connection to the younger generation. Thanks for your comment.


Cinthia Hamer said...

I've often wondered about writers who can be so up to the minute in their writing to the younger readers. Especially when it comes to slang and celebrities. What/who is IN today might be OUT tomorrow. How do they do it???

That's one of the reasons why, when I was writing contemporary, I chose to stick with "older" heroines. I knew I'd be relatively safe when it came to those particular stumbling blocks.

Writing historical is even worse. You have to practically own a time machine because sure as a duck quacks, someone will call you out (in public) over some miniscule mistake. Who knew there was no such thing as boysenberries before the turn of the twentieth century???

Marilyn Baron said...


That's why I don't write historical. I love to read it, but I don't think I could keep track of everything you need to in order to write that genre effectively.

But you're right, I come from one generation and that's the way I think. Those are the people I relate to and write about. And there are a lot of us out there.

The other night at dinner I "overheard" a conversation between some thirty something women and I thought, wow, I'd like to use that expression in my book, and I was sure I could remember it, and darn it, if it didn't just evaporate out of my head. The curse of the older generation.

Thanks for your comment.

Marilyn Baron said...

Oh, and one of my favorite expressions of the younger generation is,

"That's random."


Sally Kilpatrick said...

Being a high school teacher is a great way to bridge the gap. And to unintentionally pepper your speech with words that cause your teenaged students to shake their heads sadly.

I was constantly referencing things in class that my students didn't know. I once quoted the Rolling Stones with "You can't always get what you want." The student in question sneered and informed me that was before his time. I sneered back and told him it was before mine, too--he needed to learn the classics.

Probably not very professional, but I tend to bridge those particular gaps with sarcasm.

Thanks for the interesting post!

Marilyn Baron said...


Being a teacher would be a great way to bridge the generation gap and I also use humor a lot (and sarcasm). I tend to use phrases like, "That's really cool." Or That's Neat." I guess they don't use those expressions anymore.


Linsey Lanier said...

Funny as always. I remember my husband digging up an old phone that my nieces and nephews couldn't figure out how to use -- put your finger in the hole and push it around?

I often have to fight out-of-date expressions in my writing. Nothing comes to mind at the moment (must be that evaporation thing), but I know I've thought "No one will relate to that." :) Thanks for the reminder!

Oh, and in software circles (at least mine), "cool" is still a great way to express agreement, LOL. Use it all the time. So do non-native English speakers I work with.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Morning Marilyn:

Talk about generation gap, the first time, several years ago, that my kids used the word "douche," I almost had a cow. Then I realized that they had NO idea of what the word meant to my generation, LOL.

Slang dictionaries were my friend when I was teaching.

Barbara Monajem said...

One way to be in both -- or multiple -- generations at once is to watch a lot of TV and movies and take note of what people say and how they say it. I have to drag myself out of my comfort zone (i.e. books) to do this, but I think it's well worth the effort. And then, once you've written your younger characters, have some young people read your story and tell you where you've gone wrong, LOL.

Sandy Elzie said...


VERY interesting post. I noticed a generation gap (a small one, thank goodness) this past week with my 12 year-old granddaughter visiting. She thinks her Grandma E needs to "get with the times" because I don't text. (SORRRRRYYYYY)

As for my kids, (39, 40 & 42) they're old enough to be on my wave-length now...they even think I've gotten smarter as they've gotten older, it's just the grandchildren who think I was around before TV was invented......close, but not quite. (g)


Susan May said...

My own kids know John Wayne but the high school kids I sub for often have no idea who I'm talking about. I think their parents have done them a dis-service by not having them watch John's movies. I think the way we get around the generation gap is to use as board and well know stuff as possible, but there will still people that don't get it.

Pamela Mason said...

We've had those same gaps! But somehow, my kids have gotten into the classic rock, thanks to That 70's Show, and every so often we play one of those trivia games called 'Seen It' where ALL the StarTrek captains are. One of our biggest gaps in our family comes with SNL-- somehow Steve Martin's 'happy dance' isn't as funny to our teens as it is to us. And when John Belushi is Samurai Tailor or a Killer Bee, we like to point him out to say 'That's Jim's big brother. He was funny too.' They roll eyes at us.
We just go with it now. We embarrass them with 'I'm hip, hey I'm down with it dude!'
Hope those eyes don't fall back into their heads LOL!

Marilyn Baron said...

I thought everyone knew John Wayne.


I don't text either. My daughter taught me to message (or whatever it's called) on my blackberry. She has one too so we can communicate. But to me, e-mail or phone calls are better.

One thing I find interesting about the generation gap is the kids don't wear watches or if they do, they don't refer to them. They tell time by their cell phones.


Getting younger people to read the manuscript is a good idea. I did that with one of my manuscripts set on a college campus, and that was helpful.

I watch a lot of TV and read a lot. But some of the shows are crime shows, (CSI Miami, NCIS, Burn Notice, Dark Blue, Saving Grace, The Closer) so not many kids in those shows.
Great suggestion.

Thanks for commenting.A slang dictionary sounds good. I've tried a lot of foreign language dictionaries but never a slang dictionary.


I remember those black rotary dial phones. I used to work for AT&T -- my first job out of high school.

Glad to know I can still use the word cool.

Thank you all for your comments.


Tammy Schubert said...

LOL. I remember black rotary dial phones and party lines (more than one client shared a phone line).

Dianna Love said...

I'm laughing my butt off at this post. I've been amazed at the kids who listen to the music I grew up with or drive the muscle cars from before their time. I think some really like things outside their generation, but we still have to research generational speech and details just like any other unfamiliar parts of the story. You teachers are lucky to be in that atmosphere where you'll hear the comments naturally - if you're writing contemporary.

Cold reads are always a great idea. I like to listen to my nieces who have just gotten out of college. They say the funniest things and sometimes it's more the way they say it than the actual terminology.

I remember talking to a young person a couple years after Cher made the movie Mask and commenting on how she'd diversified from singing. The person I was talking to was shocked and had no idea Cher had ever cut a label. "g"

Pamela Varnado said...

I'm constantly feeling old these days. Especially when I turn on the television and don't recognize anyone. That's why every chance I get, I grab a magazine about the lastest technology, fashion, or world event and saturate my brain with an overload of information.

J Perry Stone said...

Beta-readers. Get some beta-readers whom you think might not necessarily "get" your references and test it out.

But there are some references I like to term as "classic references." They belong in the compilation list: IF YOU'RE BORN IN THE 20TH CENTURY, YOU SHOULD KNOW ________!

By classic, however, I don't necessarily mean "older." I think a person should be exposed to Forest Gump as much as they should know Citizen Kane.

Goodness, I've never even thought about this, Marilyn. What's the matter with me? Am I not considering my audience?

Marilyn Baron said...


I remember party lines too. I thought they were only on The Andy Griffith show, but I do remember them.

Dianna, I'm glad you liked the post. It's amazing what kids don't know these days.

Cold reads sound like a good idea.
And J,
Beta Readers too. Thanks.


I stopped reading magazines because I'm too busy reading books, but I'd better go back to the magazines. I liked In Style and Vanity Fair.


Anna Steffl said...

I have kids 13 & 15, so I hear some of it, especially from my 13 year old daughter. "That's random." Yep, hear that.

Also, I overhear lots of college students around Athens. Sorry, but I want none of their abuse of the word "like" in my writing, unless I'm crafting someone I want you to hate.

Great topic. I often wonder of how I would handle this in a contemporary.

Marilyn Baron said...

That group of thirty-something women I was talking about -- their entire conversation was peppered with "like." It was pretty funny.


Ana Aragón said...

Great post, Marilyn.

In order to bridge the generation gap, I think you need to be dumb enough (like me) to have kids later in life! Nearing a certain birthday with a zero and greater than 50 with a 19 year old daughter in the house, you quickly learn what isn't cool.

My own children grew up with a dad that weaned them on 50s music, and I played Jimi Hendrix around them all the time! Jennifer had a clip on her FB page today of the "Who's on First" comedy clip with Abbott and Costello she used to recite by heart! She actually earned extra credit on a 9th grade history project when she recited it for her teacher!

Tami Brothers said...

Wow! Talk about a post to make you think!!!

Great idea, Marilyn. I never really thought about this before but now that you mention it, my son thinks I’m such a dork because I am always saying “Awesome” and “that is so cool.” Maybe I need that slang dictionary Debbie mentioned… Hmmmm. Never heard “That’s Random” before.


Marilyn Baron said...


FB? That's hip (or hep if you're really old). I guess that stands for Face Book. Never heard it called that before.

I remember Who's on First but I can't remember if it was my generation or I just heard it played.

I'm stuck in the 40s. I like all music but my parents liked to listen to 40s music so I do too. But my kids like all the songs from my generation and I like their music too.


Nicki Salcedo said...

I swear I look at magazines at the grocery store and have no idea who anyone is on the covers. I'd take Jimmy Stewart or even young William Shatner (go see him at DragonCon this weekend) any day.

p.s. I see Jane and Ted around Atlanta, too. They must still be friends. Thanks, Marilyn.

Marilyn Baron said...

Thanks, Nicki.

That's interesting that Ted and Jane still hang out together.

You're right I don't know half of the people on the magazines covers at the grocery store.

Marilyn Baron