Most of us accept changes in our lives and move on to what we hope is something better than what we had. The same is true for writing and the publishing industry.
A while back, I downloaded several books I'd been meaning to read for ages. Two of them, by well-known authors, were disappointing. I haven't finished either and it's been three months. In frustration, I turned to some oldies stashed on my bookshelves. You know the ones--those that have carried you through high school, college, kids, and whenever you just needed a good story. I quickly discovered how writing has changed.
I grew up with Nancy Drew until I found Agatha Christie. I devoured about everything she wrote. Good plots, good characters, and a happy ending. What more can a reader ask? But this time around, I noticed something I'd never realized before. Her point of view is all over the place. And somehow, her characters weren't as satisfying as they were years ago. Maybe it's my romance writing background, but often there is no defined hero or heroine. The main character is Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Harley Quinn, or Tommy and Tuppence. I can appreciate their deductive reasoning that leads to unmasking the killer; however, I'm looking for more emotion now.
Confused by the constant head-hopping, I switched gears and reached for one of my favorites from the 60s, Exodus, by Leon Uris. Once again, the POV was ragged and the volume of backstory dragged me out of the main plot, which is the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. I'm glad to know the pasts of the characters, but there are so many of them and the exposition is so long I often got lost. Totally distracting.
This got me to thinking. As readers we have become impatient when it comes to details. We want the action to begin immediately and the characters' emotions to be strong enough to drive the plot. Subplots today are limited to one--two at the most. In the case of Exodus, there are what seem like dozens. It's hard to keep up with them all.
So writing styles have changed over the years. The changes are sometimes slow--so slow we don't recognize them when they occur. We read, accept the differences through sheer repetition, and move on. The publishing industry, however, did recognize the shift.
Think of the books we now call classics and their authors--Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fizgerald, William Faulkner, Agatha Christie. Would any of them be offered a contract in today's publishing world? And don't forget, James Michener! All that narrative would never sell today. The first hundred or so pages of Hawaii were all about how the islands were formed and its first inhabitants. Plus, nowadays readers just don't pick up six-hundred page novels. We want our stories condensed into reasonable lengths.
To be honest, I never could get into Hemingway--way too masculine for my taste and his female characters never seemed sympathetic to me. I had to read The Great Gatsby in high school. Once again, I had problems connecting with Jay Gatsby and the Buchanans. None of them were worth my time or effort. I considered Faulkner long-winded. I don't care if he did win the Nobel Prize, I found him boring.
I wonder if fifty years from now, a reader will find one of my books in a dusty bin in a garage sale, pay a dime, read it, marvel at how out of date the writing is, and ask, "How on earth did she ever get published?"
There are times when I wonder that myself.
Have a good Labor Day and I'll be back next month.