Timeless, Timely and Stories of a Specific Time

Some stories are timeless—they transcend one reality and have meaning in any context. The essence of fairy tales and myths are timeless. You can update the setting, give the characters contemporary names, and fool around with the details, but Cinderella is still a girl from the wrong side of the tracks (the lower caste, the impoverished ghetto, or simply the middle class) and is therefore not the Prince’s equal; and Icarus flies to near the sun (takes outrageous risks in his space mission, pushes the technology envelope until it breaks) or otherwise commits hubris in assuming the role appropriate only to a god.

Then there are timely stories. These are tales that ring true at the moment. They feel “ripped from the headlines” or prescient if they seem to predict an unbelievable—and yet real—twist of fate. Timely stories expose something important about the here and now, revealing a dark side, a funny side, or a poignant lesson. Timely tales do not need a contemporary setting. The rise and fall of a dictator from a distant time and place can feel timely in the context of a rise and fall of a dictator today. A story may also feel truer and more pointed because it makes the present clear by being set in the future or past.

Stories of a specific time are another animal. These are tales about people and places that only makes sense in that specific, unique setting and time frame. Because so many settings echo with other times and places, the specificity of these stories tied to a particular moment is important. The last night on the Titanic is the last night on the Titanic. The erupting volcano in Pompeii, the first walk on the moon, the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the assignation of Martin Luther King, the Degenerate Art Show in Munich in 1937, the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series, and other extraordinary events, present creative writers with solid backdrops for stories. There’s a lot of freedom in how the stories are written, but the settings and events are not malleable.

What kind of TIME do I like writing? All of them, of course!

Stories can be grounded in a particular time...

Stories can be grounded in a particular time…


  1. I’ve attempted a few timely stories, but they always strike me as falling flat. I think I do better as a writer conjuring more timeless settings that could be in one of many decades, though I do gravitate toward contemporary settings.

    • Candy Korman

      Contemporary settings can and do work well in timeless tales. Ultimately, I think writers choose the TIME that tells the story best. If you happen to hit a timely moment all the better. Right?

  2. Science fiction writers play with time a lot too, either forecasting events yet to come, or moving in and out of time in the form of time travel, but we do so at our peril. 1984 is a brilliant novel, but it’s a /dated/ novel because the things it forecast didn’t happen, not then. We may be seeing some of those forecasts coming true now, but not quite in the way George Orwell envisaged. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      Ultimately, 1984 was of its time and only became timeless because it is so well written. Futurism in fiction gets tied up in reality when the “sell by date” passes, whether it’s 1984 or 2001, reality didn’t play out exactly the way the storyteller forecast.

      What makes good science fiction/futuristic literature TIMELESS is the nature of those predictions, not the specificity. Ah, well… sometimes it’s best to place your futurist story on another planet!