Maybe I'm alone in this, but whenever I get reading and then the story brings in actors or entertainment which I know doesn't exist, I get pulled out of the reading. Like, yanked. Because suddenly it's not my world anymore. It's something else and I don't know where it is. It doesn't feel genuine.
But characters watch stuff and like actors and read books. So what to do?
These are the things I've found I've liked:
- If the actor/actress/famous person is an integral part of the story (like Airhead by Meg Cabot or The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale) then I don't get as knotted up about it, because clearly they can't use real people.
- The Fault in Our Stars has a book (An Imperial Affliction) and a band (The Hectic Glow) that John Green made up. But while reading it, they seemed to be obscure, and not huge and part of general pop culture. You can't know every book and band in existence, so I read it as if they existed, and in fact looked them up to see if they were real while I was reading. Obscurity in the novel grounds it into the real world.
- Using old TV shows/movies/bands. If an MC's favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music, or her father is watching re-runs of Seinfeld then that is something readers will forever know. I know there's pressure to not "date" a book, and these classics will make it not dated.
- Using things that are modern, but will be around for a long time. I read The Outsiders, which was written in the 60s, and it mentions the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Update that to today, and you might mention Coldplay, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, people who won't be one-hit wonders and specifically date your book (like The Jonas Brothers would). These artists will mark a decade or so with their music. And honestly, with the speed of technology, books set in the real world will be dated a few years after their release anyway. It's okay to mark a book as one written in the 2010s like The Outsiders did with the 60s. If your book makes it that far, people will love it anyway. The key is to not have The Jonas Brothers roll in for a concert, so that people in 2013 would say, "Wow, this is so from 2008!" Specific--bad. General--good.