Good article by C.A. Belmond in the Huffington Post last Wednesday: “Writers Wednesday: 5 Lies They Tell You About Writing.”
I particularly liked number 2: “Many writing instructors routinely discourage new authors from describing their characters and the world they inhabit. Why? Two reasons are usually given. One is that it isn’t “modern” to do so (Hemingway is often cited here); and the other is because it’s so darned hard to describe stuff (like sure, what are you, a writer or something?)…Perhaps that explains why so many writers use brand names in place of original description. Let’s call this for what it is: mere product placement, for which the authors didn’t even get paid.”
Aside from the vague statement “many writing instructors,” (how many? how surveyed? residential/non-residential programs? undergraduate/graduate?), I agree with what she’s saying. Brand names bore me. Brand names in fiction bore me. Including the name of a particular beverage doesn’t improve a story.
A critique of an early draft of Circus of the Grand Design by a writer I respect included the suggestion of using brand names in part one (which is set in the real world), to anchor the story because after part one it dives into the land of What the Fuck? and stays there till the end. The suggestion made sense, but I chose to ignore it; the final version did (I hope) convey the real-world better than the version he read.
“…do we really need to hear from yet another desperate housewife about her mind-numbing collection of Manolos and Choos, or the brand of bottled water she drinks?”
I learned from the comments to Belmond’s piece that she is referring to shoes. Maybe writers who use brand names etc. should have to pay licensing fees to the corporate owners.
Besides brand names, I don’t like to use pop culture references, contemporary jargon, sayings, and clichés. I find it jarring and uninteresting to read a story with, say, Facebook or YouTube in it. I’m even hesitant to use computers and cell phones in my fiction. I don’t need the world that I see every day to be reflected in fiction.
Grandiose it may be, but I would like the things I write to have meant something before current brand names, jargon, and fads existed. Yes, that’s unrealistic. English is always changing. There are words in common use now that originated from brand names or jargon. The main point would be that I’m not writing for the current moment.
But like any creative exercise, everyone is free to do what they want. If brand names get you exited, then pile them in. Fortunately for you, not all readers will have tastes as rigid as mine.
I’ll close with an example from Michael Cisco’s novel The Narrator, where you’ll find description that makes the familiar alien. No brand names here!
“Oh look another one of my outdoor cafés what about that. A handsome girl and brave asks me what I want and goes inside to get me whatever it is I’ve ordered. Everywhere, the same thing. I see mouths in motion on all sides. Incessantly in motion, on all sides. There’s another; and now two more have joined us. They eat, and their jaws work the food around among the teeth, between the jaws, pressed this way and that so that the different kinds of food find the teeth specialized to destroy them. The tongue does this, and also churns saliva into the food, so that everything tastes like saliva. Although the tongue naturally tastes, while having no taste of its own to speak of, not that I’d notice. I watch this or that patron lifting a cup or glass to the mouths they come here to honor with this fine food and drink, and the mouths stretch themselves out toward the cups or glasses, reaching out to meet them before the hand has finished bringing it near, as the eye judges. These people, like me, are marked for death. But not entirely like me. They can run.”