follow a rookie writing his first novel

Fashion in writing

It strikes me that writing like most anything else is subject to fashion. At the moment the ’50 shades’ trilogy has captured the imagination in a way that no S&M novel had before. Is it the better than what went before? No, not really. So the question becomes one of why? Why this book and why now?

Well, if I knew the answer to that then I would be writing the next big thing myself. Fashion is transient and fickle. It is really hard to get a handle on it, or its moods. Somehow, the subject, the timing and everything else is just right and a book takes off. Inevitably then a whole host of books of the same ilk are produced and for a while these do relatively well. Then moods change, the fashion train moves on to the next station. In its wake a few stragglers are produced which look and feel deeply out of place – there is nothing more grating than something only just out of fashion.

Alongside fashion though is the time a book is written in. You often don’t need to be told that a book was written in the 1890’s, 1920’s 1970’s or whenever – the style and feel of the book gives it away. I was reading a book by A.S Byatt (The game) this week. Without looking at the publication dates I just knew it was written in the late 1960’s (1967 as it turns out). Why? well, because the pace was much slower than a modern book, the depth of characterisation greater. The descriptions of the intensity of feelings and angst levels matching and reflecting society at that time. It is a brilliant book, but one I feel, wouldn’t find a publisher today. Which is a shame.

This got me thinking. Is it possible to write a book now as if it were written in a different time. Could we even do it, given our worldview, life experiences and assumptions would be radically different. I’m not sure we even notice them changing. I lived through the 1960’s, but could I really step back into the mindset of the time to write like that. I doubt I could even if I wanted to and going back to an age before I was  born, I wouldn’t know where to start.

Historical fiction is not for me. I neither read much of it nor write it. I admire the dedication of people who do, the research they do is incredible. But even then, it is still a piece that is written about the past from a modern mindset. And I’m not sure how popular it would be if it wasn’t, as the readers worldview is very much ‘of the present’. I suppose the trick is to make enough concession to the past to make it seem authentic. As with much else in fiction, it needs to be an approximation to reality, not reality as it is, because that often makes poor reading.

So, fashion is all-pervasive. From the subject to the language it is written in and the prevailing attitudes of the day. Is it any wonder that writing the next big thing is a lottery. But the thought that what I am writing might be, just might be it – Ah! that gives me a warm glow…



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2 thoughts on “Fashion in writing

  1. “You often don’t need to be told that a book was written in the 1890′s, 1920′s 1970′s or whenever – the style and feel of the book gives it away.” Yup, like the hairstyles in “historical” movies. 🙂

    I remember once I was re-reading Ulysses, and then I re-read Mason & Dixon, and it was a curious experience. Ulysses was set much closer in history to my life, but I always have to make a leap to really identify with it, since Joyce was several generations removed from me (plus the increased distance of different countries, religions, education, etc.). Then I move to Mason & Dixon, a story centuries more removed, but written by someone much closer to me in time, circumstances,and sensibility. It was like coming home. 🙂

    And, yes, if historical fiction were written as if it was from that time, in most cases it wouldn’t sell. If A Portrait of a Lady had never been written and someone tried to sell it today, I doubt if a major publisher would touch it. (Let alone Huckleberry Finn. 🙂 )

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