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Alpha Echo
12-03-2008, 07:48 AM
I'm rereading Gone with the Wind. I haven't read it for years, but I love it for so many reasons that I would list, but that's not what this thread is about.

As I began to read, I realized that if this book were written today, I don't think it would be published. At least, not the way it's written right now, which would be a shame.

But Margaret Mitchell breaks all the "rules." She head-hops randomly, she writes for pages and pages about how Scarlett's parents became her parents, and she writes the slaves' dialogue in poor English that is hard to read and slows you down.

Why has writing changed so much throughout the years? I still love this book. But I would never write like that, and agents tell us not to. Yet, Ms. Mitchell wrote one book that was published after one publisher read it. Did you know that no one except her husband read the manuscript before it was bought by the publisher? Not an editor, no one.

Anyway, I guess I'm just curious - what changes have you noticed in writing throughout the decades? Not just in novels, but non-fiction, poetry as well. I mean, of course times change, and the stories are bound to change too. But, despite all the "rules" Margaret Mitchell broke, her writing was beautiful, descriptive, intelligent, fluid, imaginative...GOOD writing. But do you think an agent would agree if it had been written today?

Jersey Chick
12-03-2008, 07:57 AM
First off, I think an agent would tell her that 700+ pages is way too long for a debut historical romance. :D

Then there'd be something about Civil War romances not selling.

Rhett would be too old, Scarlett too young.

Can't write the slaves' speech so stereotypically (I don't know if she did or not)

And the world would never know the true awesomeness that is Gone With the Wind

KTC
12-03-2008, 08:04 AM
i don't dig analyzing yesterday's classics under today's microscope. embrace change. plus ša change, plus c'est la meme chose does not ring true for literature (Except for the GOOD WRITING thing, that is). I love the classics and I read them to love them. You don't even have to pick up a 'classic' to find a book that would not pass the scrutiny of today's market. Just go a few years back. But for the love of God, leave the classics alone.

maestrowork
12-03-2008, 08:13 AM
Times change. People change. The world was a very different place when Gone with the Wind was written and published. Even movies are very different throughout the decades -- it's not necessarily about progress... just change: taste, techniques, readers' expectations, etc. Also, I do think movies and TV change the way literature is written. People now want cinematic -- they don't want to read pages and pages and pages of descriptions and internal monologues and they don't want to have to bring out their dictionary every few sentences.

But you know what? Deep down, something never changes: a good story. Nobody writes like Shakespeare anymore, but his stories last and get retold over and over again.

Medievalist
12-03-2008, 08:20 AM
Don't worry quite so much about head-hopping; it's an obsession fueled by English majors who haven't actually looked at nearly enough books.

Dickens head-hops, Hemingway head-hops, Raymond Chandler head-hops, Nabokov head-hops, Stephen King head-hops.

The things to obsess about are story, plot, characters and dialog. The rest is gravy.

Puma
12-03-2008, 03:07 PM
I agree with you, AlphaEcho, that Gone with the Wind and basically all of the classics would not come to publication if they were first presented in this contemporary market. Same thing goes for all the major poetry, musical compositions, and artworks. And that's sad. There have been threads before on similar questions to the one you posed so I won't say more. But I agree. Puma

Alpha Echo
12-03-2008, 03:52 PM
I'm not tearing apart Gone with the Wind or obsessing over the things I've learned NOT to do that Mitchell DOES do. I just find it interesting, I suppose. I actually talked to my mom about it yesterday. She asked me if I thought the reason long pages of description and internal dialogue and backstory are unpopular now because we're in a day and age where instant gratification is key, and I said yes. I do. Then she said she thought that was crazy because as long as it's written well, she loves reading about the character's story and life, even the story and life before the story being told (aka the backstory). I guess that's changed because people, generally speaking, don't have the time, or at the very least don't want to make the time.

KTC
12-03-2008, 03:56 PM
we're in a day and age where instant gratification is key

That is the exact reason we're being fed clipped sentences. I was just being bitchy above. I think I prefer the old style of writing.

NeuroFizz
12-03-2008, 05:27 PM
I'll echo what Lisa (Medievalist) said--skillful storytelling will keep readers turning pages unless the writing is so horrible it points at itself (rears up above the storytelling). Lasting stories may resonate with readers over decades or centuries because they so skillfully address common or period-specific aspects of human nature, aspects of historical events, or human thoughts and frailties that are universal and unchanging. They could also merely have a through-the-roof entertainment quotient.

However, I'd like to take a different tack for this thread, which is NOT a derail but a continuation of the discussion (I hope). The so-called "rules" of writing are frequently bent and broken even by contemporary writers, and it seems most of the threads and posts concerning these "transgressions" take the form of a whine: they can, why can't I? And the answer seems to boil down to something like, you can once you've become established, but don't try it in your first novels or you'll never get published. This, I think skirts the question about what we now consider "good writing"--why are these "rules" accepted as such. I don't buy the argument that it's because of the short attention span of readers these days, or similar arguments of shortcomings in contemporary readers. This, once again, skirts the important idea that there just may be advantages to following these "rules" in terms of reader enjoyment and reader involvement in a story.

So, as a challenge, let's see if anyone out there can pick one or more of the contemporary "rules" of writing and give a short statement (opinions, of course) on what they think are the literary advantages of following those "rules."

I'll start it off by addressing head hopping. Others can add to this or rebut it, or they could pick up on other things like info dumps, long backstory expositions, and so on.

By establishing a POV character for a scene and staying in that character's head throughout the scene, we stand a much better chance of pulling that character's skin around the reader, increasing the reader's sympathy, understanding or distaste for that character. In other words, it stands to increase the emotional reactions of the reader to that character and increase the emotional attachment of the reader to the character's future actions (i.e. make the reader want to turn pages). If several other characters fart out their internal thoughts throughout the scene, it lets the reader off the hook for a deep emotional attachment (in my opinion). Instead of having the reader try to interpret the thoughts of the other characters from their actions and dialogue, like the POV character must do, it's all just out there totally removing a good degree of suspense or wonder or just plain human nature. In addition to the "in the character's skin" thing, holding POV is a wonderful way purposefully to build suspense for the reader or build reader curiosity. Finally, holding tight to the POV character can create a tighter writing, avoiding the jumps and returns of thoughts instead of actions.

Can a good writer do all of the above while still head hopping? Yes, at least in part. I still think it dilutes the emotional attachment of the reader for that POV character, and if done throughout the book without some hard work to build that attachment in other ways, it can lessen the reader's experience. The addage, less is more, in terms of reader involvement in the story came about for a reason, and I don't think it has anything to do with short attention spans and the wham-bam needs of the younger generations. I think it allows more intellectual involvement on the part of the readers, which in my mind, translates to more reader enjoyment. So, instead of satisfying a need for shallow, fast-paced writing, I think holding POV (done well) increases the intellectual and emotional involvement of the reader in the story. It also can make the character seem more three-dimensional and real.

Now, I have to come full circle. Why are the classics still such enjoyable reads despite the evolution of writing technique? Re-read my first paragraph above.

tehuti88
12-03-2008, 07:45 PM
One main change I see in writing over time is in the pure length of it. I download interesting-looking antiquated texts from Project Gutenberg, and there will be books that are over a megabyte in size, or are presented in like ten volumes or something. Yet they're just one book, and apparently they were published.

Nowadays anything over around 100,000 words is considered anathema, which I find quite sad, since I love long stories (and write them). But apparently in olden times it was quite common to write such monsters.

NeuroFizz
12-03-2008, 08:02 PM
I see the same thing in scientific journal publications. The old "monographs" are a pleasure to read, but the amount of information (read as scientific advancement) in them is sometimes not more than that presented in a 15 page modern scientific paper.

I have a feeling in both popular and scientific writing, the evolution to shorter works are more due to economic pressures from the publishers than from any changes in writing style.

Robin Bayne
12-03-2008, 08:28 PM
First off, I think an agent would tell her that 700+ pages is way too long for a debut historical romance. :D

Then there'd be something about Civil War romances not selling.

Rhett would be too old, Scarlett too young.

Can't write the slaves' speech so stereotypically (I don't know if she did or not)

And the world would never know the true awesomeness that is Gone With the Wind


Not to mention the lack of the HEA. :D

Alpha Echo
12-03-2008, 10:09 PM
However, I'd like to take a different tack for this thread, which is NOT a derail but a continuation of the discussion (I hope). The so-called "rules" of writing are frequently bent and broken even by contemporary writers, and it seems most of the threads and posts concerning these "transgressions" take the form of a whine: they can, why can't I? And the answer seems to boil down to something like, you can once you've become established, but don't try it in your first novels or you'll never get published. This, I think skirts the question about what we now consider "good writing"--why are these "rules" accepted as such. I don't buy the argument that it's because of the short attention span of readers these days, or similar arguments of shortcomings in contemporary readers. This, once again, skirts the important idea that there just may be advantages to following these "rules" in terms of reader enjoyment and reader involvement in a story.

So, as a challenge, let's see if anyone out there can pick one or more of the contemporary "rules" of writing and give a short statement (opinions, of course) on what they think are the literary advantages of following those "rules."

I'll start it off by addressing head hopping. Others can add to this or rebut it, or they could pick up on other things like info dumps, long backstory expositions, and so on.

By establishing a POV character for a scene and staying in that character's head throughout the scene, we stand a much better chance of pulling that character's skin around the reader, increasing the reader's sympathy, understanding or distaste for that character. In other words, it stands to increase the emotional reactions of the reader to that character and increase the emotional attachment of the reader to the character's future actions (i.e. make the reader want to turn pages). If several other characters fart out their internal thoughts throughout the scene, it lets the reader off the hook for a deep emotional attachment (in my opinion). Instead of having the reader try to interpret the thoughts of the other characters from their actions and dialogue, like the POV character must do, it's all just out there totally removing a good degree of suspense or wonder or just plain human nature. In addition to the "in the character's skin" thing, holding POV is a wonderful way purposefully to build suspense for the reader or build reader curiosity. Finally, holding tight to the POV character can create a tighter writing, avoiding the jumps and returns of thoughts instead of actions.

Can a good writer do all of the above while still head hopping? Yes, at least in part. I still think it dilutes the emotional attachment of the reader for that POV character, and if done throughout the book without some hard work to build that attachment in other ways, it can lessen the reader's experience. The addage, less is more, in terms of reader involvement in the story came about for a reason, and I don't think it has anything to do with short attention spans and the wham-bam needs of the younger generations. I think it allows more intellectual involvement on the part of the readers, which in my mind, translates to more reader enjoyment. So, instead of satisfying a need for shallow, fast-paced writing, I think holding POV (done well) increases the intellectual and emotional involvement of the reader in the story. It also can make the character seem more three-dimensional and real.

Now, I have to come full circle. Why are the classics still such enjoyable reads despite the evolution of writing technique? Re-read my first paragraph above.

No, thank you...I suppose this is kind of where I wanted this thread to go. I agree - I don't really like head-hopping now that I know what it is. However, until I started to write seriously, I didn't, and I didn't even notice it. In stories like Gone with the Wind or Pride and Prejudice...now I notice the head-hopping on the first few pages, but once I'm a chapter or two into it, I don't because I'm into the story. I guess it really depends on how well you write the story because there is validity in your statements - it's hard to feel close to the MC when the author puts you into even minor character's heads.


Nowadays anything over around 100,000 words is considered anathema, which I find quite sad, since I love long stories (and write them). But apparently in olden times it was quite common to write such monsters.

I love long stories too. Sometimes, I'll buy a book just because it's thicker than the others. I hate a good story to end, so the longer, the better (most of the time..as long as it is in fact, a good story)



I have a feeling in both popular and scientific writing, the evolution to shorter works are more due to economic pressures from the publishers than from any changes in writing style.

That's an interesting thought, one I didn't think about. By economic pressures, do you mean monetarily - that publishers dont' want to shell out the money for a longer book?


Not to mention the lack of the HEA. :D

What's...HEA (sorry if I'm being silly, but I have no idea)

maestrowork
12-04-2008, 04:53 AM
HEA: Happily Ever After.


HEA is a requirement for genre romance. But I don't look at GwtW as genre romance, but rather a historical love story. HEAs are not required for love/romantic stories.


W.r.t. "head-hopping" -- remember there's a big difference between head-hopping and omniscient. GwtW and Pride & Prejudice, for example, were written in omniscient with a clear narrative voice. To me, head-hopping is when a narrator goes off a 3rd limited POV and dips into multiple characters' heads without discipline.

So.... omniscient is fine. A perfectly good way to tell a story.

Head-hopping? Not so much.

Julia
12-04-2008, 05:42 AM
That reminds me: Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" would never, NEVER be published. A publisher said and would say that he rambles on (which he does, in a sense) and that 40 pages of inner dialogue by a boy who cannot fall asleep is way too much. Luckily (or, for some, unluckily), another publisher thought otherwise.

maestrowork
12-04-2008, 06:36 AM
That makes me wonder -- how many great stories with great characters are overlooked nowadays because of long, drawn-on descriptions, etc. because the publishers don't have the patience to read through them?

Or if something like that is published, they'd be deemed too "literary" and thus have a small audience. Do we have to wait 100 years for them to become "classics"?

NeuroFizz
12-04-2008, 01:59 PM
Better doesn't have to be bigger.

And a classic does, indeed, have to stand a test of time, or it's just a bestseller*.

*This is not a slight on bestseller lists. But most bestsellers don't come close to being classics.

maestrowork
12-04-2008, 04:32 PM
*This is not a slight on bestseller lists. But most bestsellers don't come close to being classics.

True. How many "best-sellers" we remember from year to year? We remember them better if they've been made into movies, I suppose. But out of the thousands if not more of best-sellers each year, not many make it to "memorable." Fewer became classics after 10 or 20 years.

Some classics are also not best-sellers, but steady sellers. They sell 10,000+ copies every year, but they keep selling...

Alpha Echo
12-04-2008, 06:35 PM
I agree with that also. Nora Roberts, Steven King, Danielle Steele, Patricia Cromwell, James Patterson...the list goes on. They all have best sellers every week, it seems. But when I try to remember a specific one I read, with the exception perhaps of Steven King (though I haven't read much from him lately), I don't remember it at all. I can't decipher one Nora Roberts trillagy from the other or one Alex Cross novel from the first one. They're all the same. Good to read at the time, but when it boils down to it, definitely not about to be a classic.

Is it even possible to be a modern day classic? Who would be an example of one?

And thanks Ray, got it - Happily ever after. Poor Scarlett.

Dave.C.Robinson
12-04-2008, 07:29 PM
Neurofizz raised some interesting questions:

I'm going to take on "show don't tell."

To me that means to write in scenes rather than simple narrative. It adds direct sensory input and specific detail to the action and helps ground the reader in the story. From my perspective that raises the emotional stakes of the story by pulling me closer to the action. It's exactly the same as how your eyesight works; the closer you get the more details you see. By adding details you bring your reader closer to the character and increase their investment in the story.

As a person, I'm interested in the people in the story. Showing rather than telling helps bring the characters out as individuals.

Now on to the "rules of writing" in general, or as I prefer to think of them the accepted standards in contemporary writing. (By which I mean works written now, not works set in the present.)

To me they're just a list of techniques writers use to keep their readers interested in the story; not requirements. It's not the only way, it's the easy way. The truth is you can do anything; just so long as you do it well enough. If you can keep your reader hooked and involved in the story all other sins can be forgiven. If you try to do it the hard way and it doesn't work, people are going to ask why you didn't try doing it the easy way.

As always, just my two cents.

Alpha Echo
12-04-2008, 07:42 PM
I agree with "Show don't tell." Except when it's necessary to tell.

Using Gone with the Wind as an example once again - I enjoy throroughly when Mitchell gives us character background. She gives the characters flavor and color that also give us a feel for the time period. She "tells" us a lot of things. But then again, you point out that the "rules" are for works written today. Back then, times were different.

And that's sort of what I'm wondering - why are things so different now? Have we just gotten lazy? You made an interesting point saying the rules are not requirements, not the only way, but the easy way. did the readers get lazy first, so the writers have to follow? Or did the writers start slacking first? Not saying that any of us are slacking at all - I know I'm not, and I'm trying to adhere to the rules when applicable. I'm just saying...as a nation perhaps, as a new generation...are we slacking? British authors write very differently, and it's not just their humor.

James81
12-04-2008, 07:59 PM
I remember reading somewhere that GWTW was rejected like 30 or 40 times before it was published.

Maybe this is why it was rejected. :tongue

Personally, I think that this is proof that it's the story that drives your sales, and not necessarily how you "follow the rules."