Wednesday, January 18, 2006

DR: Writing Fashionably

Photo: Deb now . . . and in 1973!

As I pulled on my brand new Gap boot-cut, flare jeans this morning, I couldn’t help but remember a day thirty years ago when all I owned were bell-bottom jeans almost identical to these. Oh, how those flared denims dismayed my preppy co-ed sisters in 1976. As the oldest of four girls, I was an “old” married lady by the time my sisters left home for college, where they quickly traded their hippie jeans for the new straight-leg style all the fashion magazines were showing.

I was skeptical. Those new jeans not only looked weird to me, they just didn’t feel right. All my favorite outfits depended on the floppy flared-leg look. Adopting a new style of dungaree would force me to buy new shoes and new shirts, not to mention give up my wide leather belts for the skinnier ones that were suddenly so “in.”

But I finally gave in to my sisters’ nagging and eventually adjusted to the straight-leg look. Who could have guessed that three decades later my youngest daughter would campaign to get me out of those comfy straight-legs and into something that looks suspiciously like my jeans of old? Once again, kicking and screaming, I made the swap. If anything, the switch was even more painful the second time around. Not only am I older and more set in my ways, but—well, let’s just say that in spite of the innovative addition of spandex to denim, these new flares just don’t fit like they did back in the seventies.

My attempts at keeping up with the latest fashion remind me of how I’ve balked at the ways the conventions of writing have changed over the years. I recently updated my very first novel, written ten years ago, and I found myself thinking I might have come out ahead with that book if I’d been paid by the adverb! Those of us who grew up reading classic novels and dreamed of writing a classic of our own may have started out imitating the style of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.

Those authors wrote at a time when readers were quite content to sit through long passages of description and partake of page after page of sickly sweet prose. But television and movies have trained today’s readers—those who haven’t been completely ruined for books—to expect faster paced action, far less description and metaphor, and a closer point of view than the omniscient viewpoint most classic authors employed.

Thus, the conventions and “rules” publishing houses expect writers to adhere to today have changed drastically over the last few decades. And yes, rules were made to be broken, but before you can break the rules, you must know what they are and have a viable reason for breaking them. If you grew up on the classics, today’s editorial expectations for tighter writing, spare use of adverbs, adjectives and speaker attributions, and staying in one character’s point of view per scene can feel a bit confining.

Perhaps someday the old “bell-bottoms” of literature will make a comeback and we can once again try our hand at “flowery.” But for now, if you want your work to find favor with an editor, you may have no choice but to wiggle into those newfangled jeans and get used to the way they fit.

Deborah Raney, author of Over the Waters and A Vow to Cherish


At 5:02 AM, Blogger Angela said...

What a great lesson, Deb! (And what cute pictures!)


At 8:51 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great analogy. So true. In writing "Crafting with Kristy" for the ACFW ezine, I come across many new authors who need to heed what you're saying. "But Famous Author does this," they sometimes say. When I started writing and learning fiction in the 90s, I remember how hard it was for me to accept POV "rules" because Famous Author(s) didn't adhere. But I soon came to learn that following "the rules" makes your writing stronger. Thanks for your article, Deb.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Oh my, do I know what you mean, Deb! I recently set up some of my old OP's on Word. I haven't had a chance to fully rewrite them, but I was stunned at how style has changed so much in thirteen years. Adverbial tags! Violet eyes! Those sentimental endings--Yikes! I do admit that I still work in my straight leg jeans, but when I go out, I slide a little begrudgingly back into those flares, because, after all--ya gotta keep up with the times. Great post, Deb!

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was great, Deb! what a good example for writing for the market. I'll remember that illustration for a long time.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Deb, I can't decide if you looked better then or now. Once a babe, always a babe. :)

~ Brandilyn

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I like the way you set up the analogy. Sometimes in writing, the rules change, just from 'house to house'.

I guess the writers job is to learn to wiggle!

At 8:21 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Great post, great analogy, Deb. Love the pics!


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